At the risk of seeming petty, I have retreated to an English degree and tendencies toward logic in writing to challenge the qualifications of Sergio Paez, candidate for Minneapolis superintendent of schools. My complaint is particular to the candidate’s opening and concluding statements in his Jan. 9 Opinion Exchange article, “Why I should be Mpls. superintendent.”
Careless speech in the public domain is rarely excused. Careless writing, especially when given time and lengthy column space to make the case for employment in the public sphere, is indefensible. Arguably, it is a symptom of other potential leadership deficiencies.
The political rhetoric of Paez is clearly an effort to appease and eventually please a skeptical public, but his words lack the basics of common sense: “The Board of Education, parents, educators and community leaders agree that all of our children deserve a first rate public education and that the time has come to deliver on that promise.” In the first part, Paez does deliver on what many people want to hear — what children should have from their public schools. But then he lays a tactical egg: He invents a promise that never was, and supposes us to be all in, ultimately responsible for the invented promise to make education “first rate” for every child.
Whether his is a calculated choice or merely sloppy writing, Paez slips in the heroic nonsense that, in concert with him, we have all made the promise to our children. That also links the current job holders — teachers and administrators — as responsible for a promise they never made, and condemned when the promise is inevitably broken.
Who made that promise? Did you make that promise? I didn’t make that promise. As a retired educator, I would never make a promise to parents to deliver the goods of learning when circumstances of life — in and outside of school — undo my best efforts in the classroom. You’ve seen and heard the list: broken and transient families, poor nutrition, racial disparities in segregated schools, violence, and so on.
If you are the wise educator, you will not promise a first-rate education to all or anyone because you have experienced the many roadblocks that slow the school bus. The wise educator can reach out with many aspirations, but must carry the message with commitment, realism and honesty. I don’t believe Paez is there, according to his submitted evidence. Without reason to mock the candidate and his own words, he exercises the idealistic and unrealistic words of a hungry campaigner when he tells us he is able “to lead the Minneapolis Public Schools to greatness, ensuring the highest levels of performance for every student in every classroom of every school.” I learned in my early education (Minneapolis Public Schools) to avoid “always” and “never” in speech, in writing and in human interactions. “Every” is a word of equal value.
Still, there is the question of “Who made that promise?” And also, where did Paez acquire the use of his unachievable model of perfection in public education? If he needs to cite a source, it is the repeated national trumpeting of high and mighty promises (lacking matching outcomes). That relatively recent national trend has proudly perpetuated the mythical “every.” The original form, the recently decommissioned No Child Left Behind, has been reworked and retitled to reflect the promise of a bright education future for all, but missing the two negative terms of its predecessor. The newly legislated title is Every Student Succeeds. Can you believe it?
Steve Watson, of Minneapolis, is a retired teacher and a Minneapolis Public Schools parent.