Fanning Flames of Partisanship Hurts Kids
In an article published on Friday, November 9, the New York Times claimed that I have damaged the charter school movement by “praising” President Trump and allowing Speaker Paul Ryan to visit one of our schools. The article is untrue and does a considerable disservice to public discourse by promoting a highly divisive and partisan worldview.
First, let me give you the facts concerning my alleged “praise” of President Trump. I served on the City Council as a Democrat, I remain a Democrat, and I was very troubled when Trump was elected. The following day, I wrote an email to Success’s staff expressing my concern about the impact Trump’s election would have on the families we serve:
So many of our families today will feel very deeply and very directly that they are the target of the hatred that drove Trump’s campaign. Their sense of loss and betrayal will feel a hundred times more personal.
About a week later, President Trump asked me to become Secretary of Education. I turned him down. When I announced my decision, I made the following comments:
Like many Americans, I voted for Hillary Clinton and I was frankly disappointed by the result of this election…
Many Presidents change when they assume office and realize that they now need to represent all Americans…. When Lyndon Johnson was a Congressman, he spent two decades opposing civil rights. When he became President, he passed the most sweeping package of civil rights legislation that this country had ever seen.
There are many positive signs that President Trump will be different than candidate Trump. Meeting with Mayor De Blasio recently certainly signals that he is trying to listen to new voices.
As Hillary Clinton said, we need to give Trump a chance to lead. Those of us who opposed Mr. Trump’s election can’t go around hoping that Trump will prove us right…
I will work with the President-elect and with both Democrats and Republicans in Congress to help increase educational opportunities for all of our country’s children.
I modeled my comments on those of President Obama who had said of Trump at the time: “We are now all rooting for his success in uniting and leading the country…. We all want what’s best for this country. That’s what I heard in Mr. Trump’s remarks last night. That’s what I heard when I spoke to him directly. And I was heartened by that.”
As you can see, I did not “praise” Trump. Even if one could argue that I was implicitly praising Trump by suggesting he might change his views, which is certainly a stretch, the Times’ one word characterization of my comments as “praise” was plainly misleading to readers given the overall tenor of my comments.
I should add that, like others who held out hope that President Trump would improve with age, I have been sorely disappointed. He has become ever more intolerant, xenophobic, misogynistic, and autocratic. He has been shockingly dishonest and demonstrated contempt for our civic institutions. His recent treatment of journalists, particularly journalists of color, is appalling. And, as I long ago stated, I am horrified by the divisive rhetoric he has employed as President.
With respect to allowing Speaker Paul Ryan to visit, Success Academy honors requests by all elected officials, irrespective of party, to visit our schools so they can learn about what we do and about the benefits of school choice. Our schools have been visited by dozens of elected officials, both Democratic and Republican, and at every level of state and Federal government. Frankly, I wish more visitors from the left would visit because we have more work to do there in convincing them of the merits of charter schools. I’d love for Bernie Sanders, Bill de Blasio, and Elizabeth Warren to visit our schools. But in any event, I don’t believe I should pick and choose which elected officials can visit based upon my personal views or political affiliation.
This is the second time that the Times has blamed me for allowing Speaker Ryan to visit. Last year, the Times claimed that by doing so I had “allied [myself] with Republican advocates of charter schools.” I haven’t allied myself with Republican supporters of charter schools but with all supporters of charter schools including Presidents Obama and Bush, Governors Cuomo, Spitzer, Paterson and Pataki, and Mayor Bloomberg, as well as many Congressional leaders. Until recently, my closest ally in Congress was Democratic Representative George Miller who repeatedly invited me to testify before his Subcommittee.
In Friday’s article, the Times claimed that by purportedly “praising” Trump and allowing Paul Ryan to visit, I have caused “self-inflicted” “political wounds.” This phrase plainly implies criticism. The Times has used it recently, for example, to describe Elon Musk’s alleged violation of federal securities laws (“Elon Musk Steps Down as Chairman in Deal With S.E.C. Over Tweet About Tesla,” 9/29/2018) and Wells Fargo’s bilking of its customers (“Wells Fargo Should Focus on Its Actual Misbehavior, Not on Perceptions,” 9/5/2017).
I did not violate the securities laws or bilk anybody. Instead, my crime was allowing the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, a man who is second in line in Presidential Succession, to visit one of our schools. Apparently, the Times believes this was wrong because I must pick sides. If I don’t bar Republicans from visiting our schools, then I am siding with them. This attitude drives people out of the center and marginalizes those of us who are trying to keep the lines of communication open in an increasingly partisan age.
I have asked the Times for a correction, but I think there is more at stake here than simply my reputation. While Donald Trump bears much of the blame for the polarization of our country, all of us, including the media, have a responsibility to avoid fanning the flames of partisanship and promoting an us-vs-them mentality. We should encourage people to communicate across ideological and party lines rather than branding them as collaborateurs for doing so. This willingness to engage in rational discussion with those with whom we disagree is at the heart of what we teach our students every day at Success Academy.