We are in day two of the left’s administration of punishment to Katherine Kersten for her Star Tribune column “Undisciplined: Chaos may be coming to Minnesota classrooms, by decree.” Yesterday the Star Tribune gave a St. Paul public schools reading specialist and her sidekick the opportunity to embarrass themselves in “False claims and dog whistles in Katherine Kersten’s commentary on school discipline.” My analysis: They are in need of remedial specialists in writing, thinking, and argument. They specialize in name-calling.
Today’s enforcer is Brenda Cassellius, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Education in the administration of Governor Mark Dayton. Cassellius takes us further up the public employee food chain. She turns up the volume of personal disparagement to 11. Her column — “What Katherine Kersten can’t grasp about schools but readers should” — makes an argument of a sort. It is, mostly, argument by adjective: “divisive,” “hateful,” “misleading,” “reckless” and — wait for it — “flat-out racist.”
She also argues by attribution of positions allegedly taken by Kersten in previous columns. Put the tendentious formulation of Kersten’s positions to one side. Here Cassellius commits the classic logical fallacy of ad hominem argument. To borrow a leaf from Joseph Conrad, Ms. Kersten — she bad. Indeed, she looms large in the nightmares of Minnesota’s lunatic left.
“Enough is enough,” Cassellius announces. I think that’s a shot at the Star Tribune. She is mad at the Star Tribune for publishing Kersten’s column. Lest we forget, this was the heart of Kersten’s column:
In fall 2017, the [Minnesota Human Rights Department] sent letters to 43 school districts and charter schools across the state, announcing that the schools are under investigation because their student discipline records suggest that black and Native American students are disciplined at a rate that exceeds their proportion of the student population.
On March 2, the department released a report it said showed that, in the 2015-16 school year, minority students — 31 percent of the state’s student population — accounted for 66 percent of school suspensions and expulsions.
MDHR has declined to make public either the letters or the identity of the districts targeted, citing ongoing investigations. But Human Rights Commissioner Kevin Lindsey provided troubling details in a recent interview with MinnPost.
Here, in essence, is MDHR’s position: The primary cause of racial discipline gaps in schools is racist teachers and discipline policies, not differing rates of student misconduct. Schools must move to end these statistical group disparities. If administrators don’t agree to change their practices in ways that reduce black and Native American discipline rates, according to MinnPost, “Lindsey says the state will initiate litigation.”
To the extent that Cassellius responds to Kersten’s column, this is it: “[T]he Department of Human Rights is not calling for a moratorium on suspensions or expulsions. Instead, after removing violent offenses and criminal activity from the data set, it is calling for school officials to seriously examine solutions to suspension data that year after year demonstrate significant and troubling disparities over time.”
Cassellius’s “is calling for” requires translation. It should be translated as “is threatening litigation over.” A close reading of this narrow response to Kersten’s column reveals tacit agreement with it. Ms. Casselius — she shady.
After the name-calling and ad hominem argument, Casselius denies that the Minnesota Department of Human Rights has called for a “moratorium” on suspensions or expulsions. Here again translation is required. The department has merely threatened litigation over persistent statistical racial disparities (after removing violent offenses and criminal activity) on suspensions.
Cassellius doesn’t dispute Kersten’s column. She confirms it.
Cassellius omits a listing of the disciplinary offenses for which the department seeks statistical equality. We can’t be sure what they are because she doesn’t tell us. Accessing the discipline data to which she refers, I think it may include these offenses: Alcohol, Assault, Attendance, Bullying, Computer, Controlled Substances, Cyber Bullying, Disruptive/Disorderly, Fighting, Gang Activity, Harassment, Hazing, Over-the-Counter Meds, Pyrotechnics, Threat/Intimidation, Tobacco, Vandalism, Verbal Abuse, Weapon, Other.
I have excluded these disciplinary offenses: Arson, Bomb, Bomb Threat, Extortion, Homicide Illegal Drugs, Robbery (using force), Terroristic Threats, and Theft.
Cassellius does not inform us of the statistical racial disparities in the data overall or in the data subset over which the department has threatened litigation. She writes: “Had Kersten done any legitimate research, beyond the reach of her favorite right-wing sources, a close look at the data would have made it abundantly clear that a number of Minnesota schools are suspending kids of color at far higher rates than their demographic proportion.”
But Kersten didn’t deny this. Her argument accepts the premise. Her argument — she actually had one — is this: the statistical racial disparities reflect statistical behavioral disparities. Cassellius does not take issue with this basic point.
There is a gaping hole in Cassellius’s column where demonstration ought to be. Cassellius’s column is an exercise in pretense and distraction. And this woman is Minnesota’s commissioner of education. In case anyone is paying attention, that too is a scandal.
JOHN adds: Kathy responded to the first two attacks on her at Center of the American Experiment’s web site.