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Community Commentary: Superintendent critique done poorly

December 28, 2011|By Tom Egan

While it is 100% legitimate in our democracy for any resident and any columnist to critique how a school district uses public funds, it's not legitimate to do so in a reckless way and to use fallacious arguments.

The latest example of such an attack — seemingly factual and well-reasoned — was published in a recent Daily Pilot ("City Life: Travel should come second to pencils," Dec. 14). This time the local school district superintendent was the target.

The columnist apparently couldn't find any showstoppers — no wine, women, song, etc. — after reviewing five years of the (teetotaling) superintendent's trip reports, so he lowered his sights. The columnist ends up comparing how he spends money at conferences to how the superintendent does. This comparison might be legitimate if they both had similar job responsibilities, but they don't.

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Of course there will be a big difference between the trip expenses of a columnist and the busy chief executive of a $230-million operation. To condemn someone on the basis of unremarkable trip reports is reckless, and the argument is fallacious.

A genuine respect for reality is missing in so many modern critiques of public education. The problem with being out of touch with reality is that critics can more easily fall into reckless and fallacious arguments. This is not good for society.

The reality is that our education system has been, and remains, very successful. It helped us win World War II, go to the moon, develop microelectronics and win the Cold War, for example.

I'm not here to say that public education is flawless, just that there are many unscrupulous critics. As responsible stakeholders in the community, we need to be skeptical of those who resort to reckless and fallacious arguments to unfairly attack our school system.

We need to say, "Enough!" to the people who make illegitimate arguments that sully the reputation of the public education system. Let's get back to the kind of legitimate arguments Americans had prior to the 1950s.

TOM EGAN lives in Costa Mesa.

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