My Goal in Blogging

I started this blog in May of 2008, shortly after my election to the School Committee, because I believed it was very important to both provide the community with an opportunity to share their thoughts with me about our schools and to provide me with an opportunity for me to ask questions and share my thoughts and reasoning. I have found the conversation generated on my blog to be extremely helpful to me in learning community views on many issues. I appreciate the many people who have taken the time to share their views. I believe it is critical to the quality of our public schools to have a public discussion of our community priorities, concerns and aspirations.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Thanks for the Blogging Support

This is a quick one -- but I just want to say that I've been amazed at the outpouring of interest/support in the issue of my right to share my opinions in a blog. This support now includes famous town blogger and Select Board Chair Stephanie O'Keeffe, as quoted in the Amherst Bulletin a few weeks ago, and infamous (?) town blogger, Larry Kelley (who has a couple of posts on his blog expressing support, as well as a clip of the Marks Meadow parent criticizing me for blogging at the last School Committee meeting: http://onlyintherepublicofamherst.blogspot.com/2009/02/blame-blogger.html).

And after this most recent School Committee -- which included, disturbingly, not only a parent blatantly criticizing me for sharing my opinion but also a huge round of applause from the parents/teachers in the audience--my right to blog has also been given support from other local bloggers, including each of the following:

• Ron Miller (http://byronmiller.typepad.com/byronmiller/2009/01/
local-school-committee-blog-becomes-budget-battle-flash-point.html), who writes: “Sanderson has a right to blog. She makes it clear up front in the blog why she blogs and what she will and won't write about. She has a right to an opinion and a blog is actually providing more unfiltered insight into the thoughts of town officials than we are likely to get through the local town weekly. I don't think this is really about her blogging. I think it's about frustration with the funding system. It's the same everywhere I look, but suggesting an official can't blog (express their first amendment rights) to me is just silly. You might not like what she has to say, but she has a right to say it and you are probably getting a deeper understanding of her views and decision-making process than you would otherwise.”

• Andrew Shelffo (http://www.theprospectperspective.com/), who writes: “I find this shocking. It's clear to me what the speaker meant is that she's uncomfortable with the fact that Dr. Sanderson doesn't agree with her. It's not the medium Dr. Sanderson is using to express her opinion that's the problem; it's the opinion. The implication is that people should keep dissenting or disturbing opinions to themselves. The implication is that blogs are somehow evil because they allow people to express their opinions. It's chilling to think that people can believe that an appropriate way to respond to someone who disagrees with you is to find a way to silence that person. I want my public officials to be open about how and why they vote they way they do, and a blog can be a perfect platform for sharing that information. I applaud Dr. Sanderson's blogging efforts and hope that she'll continue to show how effective a good blogger can be.”

• Greg Saulmon (http://www.masslive.com/localbuzz/index.ssf/2009/02), who writes: "That criticism, though, is based on a curious assumption: that a committee member who blogs is the only committee member who has a pre-formed opinion on an issue, and that the other members remain completely neutral until a meeting takes place. It's an assumption that I assume is very inaccurate. A blog, then, actually offers a measure of protection. When a committee member posts her thoughts on an upcoming policy decision, she's starting a dialogue with the public -- and that dialogue is the opportunity for the public to make its case. In the 22-comment thread that followed Sanderson's post on music, readers agreed and disagreed with her statements. Over the course of several responses to her readers, Sanderson contributed an additional 1500 words to the dialogue. On the other hand, a non-blogging committee member carries her biases and pre-formed opinions into a meeting largely untested; the meeting will be the first time her thoughts are subject to public review.”

So, I want to thank those who have chosen to express their support for the apparently revolutionary idea that at least some people like to know what their elected officials think and how they make decisions, and like to have the opportunity to engage in a dialogue with those officials (which presumably could influence the decision-making process). My blog is the best way I've found to allow this dialogue to occur -- and I do believe I will make better decisions because I'm going to hear a lot of community feedback about my ideas, I'm going to have to defend my decisions, and I'm going to clearly be held account if/when I'm wrong. But at least community members will know where I stand and why.

ADDITION: Obviously I have no control over the comments that anyone posts to one of the blogs that I am linking to in this point, nor is my linking to these blogs intended to imply that I condone any such comments. I believe the debate about education in Amherst is furthered by providing specific objective information (data, evidence), and not by using personal attacks of any sort.

6 comments:

an Old-Timer said...

Here, here!!! It's downright shocking to me that there would be all of this hullabaloo over a public official who wants to actually share her/his thoughts when it comes to their personal decision-making process. For all of the press given to Amherst's open-minded, liberal, accepting ways, one doesn't have to scratch at the surface very hard in order to get at the reality, which is: i will accept, honor, and respect you just as long as i AGREE with you. Sad, but true. Close-mindedness is NOT just found among ultra-conservatives folks - it runs the gamut from left to right.

The other reality is this (and it bears repeating again and again until people see it): CATHERINE SANDERSON DID NOT CREATE THIS PROBLEM!!! Her only "crime" was having the nerve/guts/courage to create this public forum so every citizen with access to a computer could log in and have their voice be heard AND hear the voices of their fellow citizens. What a gift.

So...stop shooting the messenger folks and instead turn your thoughts/energies to the task at hand which is finding creative, viable solutions to the problems in front of us. You may be upset and angry and feeling any number of other emotions around these issues but do not make the mistake of making Catherine Sanderson, or her blog, the lightning rod for your emotions. If you don't agree with something she writes, say so and offer up other possibilities so those too can be openly debated. But to attempt to stifle her right to speak out in a public forum such as this blog smacks of the very same iron-handed attitudes that eventually pushed our forefathers (and mothers) to say "ENOUGH!" to the British. Let's not make that same mistake here in Amherst at a time when we need to be working TOGETHER towards a better future for our children.

Neil said...

Great post. I am one of your supporters and I thank you for your efforts. I have the highest regard for your intellectual abilities - drawing the right conclusions from the data - and your integrity - admitting to yourself and others if you have drawn the wrong conclusion - but if I didn't I might have the same concerns as those being expressed by skeptics. The blog has served two functions, to chronicle your analysis and answer questions about the same. I wondered how you might use it to gain a bigger audience for your school board work and it occurred to me that using it to teach may be part of the answer.

Thank you for your time and effort and for making your work so accessible to those of us who have a stake in the results. All the best.

Realist said...

A good barometer as to whether or not an opinion/idea/argument has any merit is to look at the make-up of the dissenters and ask yourself: "What do all of these folks have in common?" If it's a small, vocal, charged-up group, then that tells me that you have a NIMBY-type situation, whereby each of the dissenters has an emotional and/or monetary stake in the outcome. In this case, it seems that all of the dissenters to the "close Marks Meadow" option have children attending that school - I have yet to hear a dissenting opinion from an "outsider" who simply believes that it wouldn't be a good idea for XYZ reason(s). That tells me something.

We are in a black-and-white, facts-don't-lie situation with this budget shortfall our town is facing - there is just X number of dollars to go around and SOMETHING has to be sacrificed. This is not a time for emotions to rule the day but rather it's a time for cool, calm heads to analyze, assess, and then pull the trigger on decisions that will serve the best interests of ALL of Amherst's children, both today and on into the foreseeable future. Thank goodness there is at least one calm, analytical hand on the tiller that is steering Amherst's ship. Thank you for hanging in there with this blog Catherine...Amherst needs it now more than ever.

Ed said...

EVERYONE has access to a computer at the Jones Library and while they might not be quite as willing to be helpful when they are busy and there is a line down the hall and out the door, the librarians there ARE helpful and *WILL* show you how to use the machines.

Yes you do have to get a library card, and yes the login is so convoluted that *I* had to get help understanding it, but anyone who walks in the door and politely asks is going to be (eventually) able to see Catherine's blog and if that means having a librarian hold your hand while you do it, I strongly suspect they would do it.

I don't want to hear any of this about how people can't get access to a computer. They can.
And we also don't know how much of the stuff she posts is downloaded, printed, and handed around on dead trees. Or how many of the responses originate there and are posted by a second person.

I don't speak Kamir. I don't speak Manderin. My Spanish is, well, I essentially don't speak Spanish either. So members of this community should be forbidden from communicating in those languages because I don't speak them? I am not talking about official government documents but a politician who knows these languages is to be forbidden to make speeches in them????

Oh, and as to the right wing conservatives -- I think they would go after her on technicalities (so what if your husband took the picture of you with your camera, did you have a signed release from him on file before you posted it?) -- I don't think they would go after the blog itself, no matter how much they hated what was on it.

And one other thing: I always tell young people (who get very concerned about what others are saying about them) to consider the character of those who are attacking them. If people whom you respect are saying bad things about you, you need to be very worried -- if those for whom you have no respect do so, well "consider the source"....

Ed said...

There is a much larger issue here - and I am seeing it with the Justice for Jason stuff. For the one or two people who haven't heard about this, it involves some young men and young women all from Milton (Jason lives 300 yards over the line) and the whole thing was recorded on our very expensive dorm video cameras.

And personally, I think "justice" would be to broadcast the 12 minutes of videotape on the campus television network and then move all the trials to the Boston area where they are all from anyway. But I digress...

It is not groupthink as much as an almost Klan-like mentality in this community. There are demands for ideological purity and everything is decided not on the facts but in some knee-jerk response to ideological values that don't even apply.

It is "racist" to close Marks' Meadow? It may be many things, but racism is not part of this. Just because someone doesn't like something doesn't mean it is racist!

And if you steal a black man's car, you are a thief. Not a racist but a theif - you still should go to jail, but facts matter. And folks may not like the fact that someone is advocating the closure of Marks' Meadow but that only means that she is saying something with which you disagree.

So disagree. It is called free speech. Diversity includes diversity of opinions.

And the thing that truly scares me (when you look at the Wiemar Republic and the rise of Hitler) is the extent to which supposedly intellegent people have become essentially mind-dead robots.

From Wiki:
"Fascist governments permanently forbid and suppress all criticism and opposition to the government and the fascist movement. Fascist movements oppose any ideology or political system that gives direct political power to people as individuals rather than as a collective through the state..."

Now doesn't that sound like a certain couple of Superintendents? And even if the rest of the board isn't interested in what is likely some very boring data, if one member is, let her go read it. If a member of the community wants to go spend his time measuring water temperatures, let him. It is a free country and this is public governmental administration.

Unless, of course, one is a fascist.

If people want to say something stupid - let them. Unless you are a fascist, you don't care what other people are saying as long as you can tell everyone how wrong they are.

And the thing that never ceases to amaze me is just how textbook fascist some of the supposed liberals in this community really are...

Ed said...

Clarification---

I am NOT saying that everyone in town is a jackbooted Nazi thug.

What I *AM* saying is that there are very few people willing to defend the right of those expressing opinions they dislike to still express them.

Very little of the "while I disagree with everything you have to say, I will defend to the death your right to say it."

People reaching decisions without bothering with little things like facts and details. Close Marks' Meadow, don't close it -- if you can't argue the other side of this (even though you think it is wrong) you don't know the facts.

Justice for Jason - lets just storm the Bastille and let the good people go free while we string up the bad ones from the nearest lightpost - we don't need no stinking trials nor even to confuse ourselves with the facts.

We don't like what is written in Sanderson's blog so we need to silence her. Think I have actually agreed with everything that has been printed in the Valley Advocate over the years? But I will still defend their right to publish and the Republican Club still sends them press releases even though we know they aren't going to show up.

I am defending classic liberalism and in a town that has no fewer than THREE colleges, I am concerned that these things even need to be said.

This is a free country.