In 1747 Samuel Johnson announced the plan to write what became his Dictionary of the English Language. Johnson had hoped to get the job done in three years. His friend Richard Adams questioned his ability to complete such a massive undertaking in such a short time. It had taken the 40 members of the French Academy 40 years to compile their Dictionary, Adams reminded him. Boswell reported Johnson’s famous response: “Sir, thus it is. This is the proportion. Let me see; forty times forty is sixteen hundred. As three to sixteen hundred, so is the proportion of an Englishman to a Frenchman.” (In the event it took Johnson nine years.)
I think of Johnson’s gibe whenever the Star Tribune publishes a column by Katherine Kersten. Kathy makes an argument solidly grounded in fact and analysis. Within a day or two, the editorial pages are weighed down with the groans and shrieks of outraged Twin Cities leftists. They invariably make me wonder, with enemies like this, does Kathy need friends?
The Star Tribune, however, is something else. The Star Tribune hosts the shrieks. To play on the old joke, the shrieking will continue until morale improves.
Most recently, the Star Tribune published Kathy’s column (March 18) on litigation threatened by state officials over racial disparities in student discipline. Kathy decried the threats and predicted dire consequences based on her study of the St. Paul public schools.
Cue the ritual condemnations. Over the past week the Star Tribune has carried three columns responding in a fashion to Kathy’s column.
Counterpoint column one (March 19) overflowed with a profusion of shibboleths presented as deep thoughts by Julia Hill and Dana Bennis. It served therapeutic purposes. It only lacked an argument.
Counterpoint column two (March 20) by Minnesota Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius put up an argument that tacitly confirmed the gravamen of Kersten’s column while exploding with disparaging adjectives and denouncing Kathy as “flat-out racist.” Cassellius’s column inadvertently exposed a scandal. It is a scandal that this woman is Minnesota Commissioner of Education.
Counterpoint column three (March 26) is by “parent and advocate” Laura Gilliam. Gilliam too condemns Kathy’s “damaging and blatantly racist rhetoric.” She also condemns Kathy’s “rhetoric” as “in-your-face racist.” Is there an echo in here?
Nobody knows the troubles she’s seen, sort of: “When journalists rush to break the story about the latest assault against a teacher, yet show little interest in student stories of mistreatment and being pushed out, they’re reinforcing racist stereotypes.” One who looks for facts or analysis in Gilliam’s column will search in vain. Her purpose is incantatory and ritualistic.
As one to 1600 — so is the proportion of Katherine Kersten to the Twin Cities left.