Many thanks to Lynnell Mickelsen for having the courage and integrity to expose the political rigidity in today’s DFL Party (“Political rigidity? The left has it, too,” Oct. 25). The fundamentalists in both parties are blocking real progress, not only on education but other issues critical to creating both a prosperous and just community.

In his bestseller “The Signal and the Noise,” Nate Silver distinguishes between the “hedgehogs” and the “foxes.” The hedgehogs, who dominate our political life today, are ideological, order-seeking, stubborn and supremely confident. The foxes, who sadly are a rare breed in today’s politics, are cautious, adaptable, empirical, self-critical and tolerant of complexity.

As Silver points out, the foxes have a much better track record in predicting the future and adapting to change. The hedgehogs are failing us and are failing our kids. It is time we elect foxes and not hedgehogs to lead us.

Paul Ostrow, Minneapolis

The writer, a former member of the Minneapolis City Council, is co-chair of No Labels Minnesota.

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Having also spent a life on various parts of the Democratic-Republican continuum, I ended up squarely in the middle, as a moderate. The advantage of that position is that you are free to do those things that “fundies” on either side can’t seem to do. I enjoy being able to look at issues without believing that there are either-or choices with apocalyptic endings. I may believe that people who differ from my opinion on issues are misguided, but I don’t have to believe that they are evil — and I, like Mickelsen, know and love many decent, kind, generous people on both sides of many issues. I am also free to change my mind when new facts come to light or when compromise makes sense. There is research that shows that most of us decide what we want to believe first, then find the facts that support our beliefs, discounting the rest. I think the saddest part of all of this is the inability to have open discussions or ask tough questions and seek truth — or risk, as Mickelsen so aptly puts it, being “demonized and shunned.”

Frankly, I believe that most people are moderates, but the other sad truth is that they can’t get elected because of the “fundies” on both sides. The paralysis of education reform that Mickelsen describes — the blocking of innovation and the defending of the status quo — is a microcosm of what our entire political system has become. When money gets involved, the stakes escalate. Perhaps the system is hard-wired to resist change for the better, but maybe admitting it’s nutty — on both sides — is the first step.

Cindy Smith, Edina

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Mickelsen compares progressive supporters of traditional public schools to religious fundamentalists. But if anyone in the education debate could be accused of blind, unyielding faith, it is self-styled “reformers” like her whose zeal for charterization often seems impervious to mounting empirical evidence.

A quarter-century into the Minnesota charter experiment, these schools still, in the aggregate, underperform traditional schools in metrics of student achievement, even after controlling for student demographics. In the past several years, scores at some of the rare high-performing charters have inexplicably collapsed.

These pesky facts are not so much explained as ignored. Advocates seem to think that if only the myth of charter superiority is preached fervently enough, it will become true. And when policymakers resist conversion, advocates can only imagine that unions are to blame, rather than having a healthy and natural skepticism of their own still-unproven dogma.

Will Stancil, Minneapolis

The writer is a research fellow for the Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity at the University of Minnesota.

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Mickelsen states that she works for education reform, but the only consistent message I’ve heard from her in repeated publication on these pages is something like teachers’ union = bad. If that’s not an example of the “rigid, dysfunctional politics” that she disdains, I don’t know what is.

Mark Brandt, Minneapolis

The writer is a retired teacher.

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It is notable that Mickelsen has an excellent overview of the evils of fundamentalism (resistance to change, demonizing those with differing opinions, etc.) while lacking that sound overview of the issue of educational reform. On the topic of educational reform, she sees the trees but misses the forest. Specifically, her cataloging of the rigidity of the teacher’s union is reasonable. However, she barely touches the issue of poverty.

Experts of varied backgrounds seem to agree that a huge factor in educational outcome disparities can be traced to the overrepresentation of minority populations in the poverty ranks. Poverty breeds social dysfunction. When focusing on education outcomes, the obstacles that children from poor households face in school are proportionally much greater than those from middle-class families. As such, the arguments between the “reformers” and the “fundies” — as framed by Mickelsen — are somewhat specious.

Ask any inner-city public school teacher about this dynamic, and they’ll tell you agonizing stories from their own experiences. They may well fit Mickelsen’s description of “politically rigid” when it comes to educational reform. But their core argument is valid. Until the evils of poverty are alleviated, any effort at “progressive reform” is a little bit like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

Richard Masur, Minneapolis

 

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

Here are more ways in which the system is broken and unfair

When George Will, a conservative icon, writes a column to the effect that the current criminal-justice system may treat defendants unfairly, it would be well to pay attention (“Ours is a system very prone to error,” Oct. 25).

Will focused upon aspects of the system that give prosecutors an advantage during trials. To those, I would add the following:

Prosecutors often present several different charges for the same offense. Typically, the defendant is found not guilty on the most serious charge but guilty on a lesser charge. This plays into the psychology of jurors where, if a juror is unsure of the verdict, he or she “splits the difference,” casting a vote somewhere in the middle — i.e., a guilty verdict.

The prosecution can legally “tamper with witnesses” in offering a lesser sentence to a witness in exchange for testimony incriminating another person. That witness can freely commit perjury knowing that the only party that could punish this crime — the public prosecutor — is on the same team.

The jury-selection process systematically removes potential jurors who have had personal experience in the area being covered in the trial. That leaves jurors whose knowledge is derived from media coverage. The local news media generally reflect the police point of view.

William McGaughey, Minneapolis

 

RURAL BROADBAND

Yes, sometimes one learns that one can’t have it all

Yes, it’s too bad broadband access isn’t available everywhere; it’s an issue in this (rural) part of the state as well (“Wealthy but in an Internet outback,” Oct. 25). However, people choosing to live in a remote area, in a multimillion-dollar home, and then complaining that they can’t get a pizza delivered or a windshield replaced or have a library nearby is ridiculous. Every choice has consequences; theirs are that they don’t have immediate and/or convenient access to everything. Isn’t that one reason they moved to a remote area in the first place?

Cynthia Jorstad, Thief River Falls, Minn.