Nathan: Critics offer helpful challenges of this column

151Two critics of columns I’ve written have been very helpful. As a person who often encourages readers to re-examine, reconsider or refine their ideas, I need to do the same. While some challenges to my columns consist mostly of four letter words, Martin Wellens and another critic who requested anonymity have suggestions that I hope will make future columns more useful.
Wellens, who reads the Sun Sailor, described a column suggesting that collaboration is one of the values we celebrate on July 4 as “the worst local column I have ever read.”
For him: “The Fourth of July celebrates our breaking apart from the Brits because we could not work together. … There was no collaborative spirit. It was the king vs. the subjects; command and obey – or else.” He believes we “celebrate our intolerance of oppressive government.” He wrote, “You disgrace and diminish the soldiers who fought for our liberty.”
When I wrote back to explain that the cooperation I was referring to was cooperation among the colonies, Wellens responded: “That explanation might be plausible, if you had mentioned the colonies working together in your original editorial. But you didn’t.”
Good point. I should have been clearer about the collaboration that I think is part of what we celebrate on July Fourth. I will try to be more explicit in future columns.
A second critic strongly disagrees with my use of the Southern Poverty Law Center as a reliable source. He wrote to me some months ago and again recently.
For more than 40 years, SPLC has filed lawsuits and challenged what it sees as intolerance and hatred. (More information is available at
In part, this person believes that SPLC is not a “fair and impartial arbiter.” He disagrees with the “hate list” that the group has created. He thinks that the SPLC’s “willful ignorance of the explosion of violence from the left shows it has become nothing more than a left-wing propaganda machine that exists to stigmatize and target those it disagrees with.“
In the case of the column he mentioned, I cited SPLC’s online survey. It reported that 10,000 educators responded. Among other things, “80 percent describe heightened anxiety and concern on the part of students worried about the impact of the election on themselves and their families.” As I talked with and listened to teachers in Minnesota and around the country, I heard similar concerns.
However, as I explained to this critic, I find some of SPLC’s statements reliable and others questionable. For example, I’ve read that at least one person who SPLC describes as an “anti-Muslim” extremist has changed some of her views.
But going beyond the SPLC, this critic caused me to think about two fundamental questions: What is the truth? And how we decide what to believe? One important task for families and educators is to help young people answer these questions.
So, thanks to this critic, an upcoming column will discuss how we can help youngsters consider these questions. Meanwhile, I would welcome readers’ thoughts about how they’ve helped young people learn to sort through the virtually limitless information now available to them.
Thank you to the two critics and many others who write with questions, comments and challenges. I’m not able to respond in depth to each person, but you help me become a better writer and, I hope, make this column more useful to readers.

Joe Nathan is director of the Center for School Change. Reactions are welcome at [email protected]