In the past day or two, flyers have been distributed from a group of individuals called the Committee of Concerned Citizens. In the flyer, it is said that I made the following statement; ‘“A ‘no’ vote reinforced parochialism and provincialism” and that those who oppose the current consolidation plan “use subterfuge and misdirection to sway voters with incorrect information, outright lies, and misleading data.”’ The flyer immediately goes on and says that “People have a right to differing opinions and should not be insulted, intimidated or falsely accused, especially by a Superintendent of Schools.”
I am very happy and open for anyone to use anything I may say in a public meeting or lift anything from a page I write and use any of this in any conversation about any particular topic. I don’t mind this at all. This is all part of the normal life of a school superintendent. However, I do make one small request, and that when individuals quote me, at least accurately quote whatever I say or write.
In this case it is very easy to determine what I actually wrote. Readers can find the entire text in an opinion piece I wrote last Sunday for the Mesabi Daily News. In one paragraph I did write this sentence; “A ‘no’ vote reinforces parochialism and provincialism.” Three paragraphs later, in a different context, I wrote this sentence, “Some of these same individuals will be the same people who skipped attending the over one-hundred-and-fifty-plus committee and community meetings and instead prefer to undercut the community process and use subterfuge and misdirection to sway voters with incorrect information, outright lies, and misleading data.”
I must point out, first of all, that, in the flyer distributed, the word ‘some’ was magically transformed to the meaning of ‘all.’ But I actually wrote ‘some’ and did not infer or write that it included ‘all.’ In addition, in the flyer, two sentences from two different paragraphs were spliced together, with the additional phrase of, “and that those who oppose the current consolidation plan” being added. This completely changed the meaning of what I actually wrote. The phrase, “and that those who oppose the current consolidation plan” was completely made up by someone who (I assume) wrote the flyer and inserted the phrase between two different pieces of what I actually wrote. This completely changed the meaning and tone of what I wrote. Any seventh grade English teacher will tell you this type of editing and splicing is something which needs to be avoided. It is absurd to think that I would ever believe all “no” voters are using lies and misleading data. Yet this is what they claim I wrote.
Public conversation is good and healthy as are differences of opinion. This is all a part of public discourse which should be encouraged. However, all I ask is to accurately quote me rather than changing sentences around and printing things at the last minute which are not true. I believe this is a very fair and reasonable request to make. Especially on something so critical as the potential consolidation of two school districts.
One final thought: The flyer included a quote from the Scottish poet, Robert Burns. As a former English teacher, I happen to immensely enjoy the writing of Robert Burns, who is not read much these days, as he died in 1796 and tended to write in a flowery style of writing which is not used in modern times. The quote printed in the flyer distributed goes,
“The best-laid schemes of mice and men, often go askew,
And leave us naught but grief and pain, for promised joy.”
“To a Mouse” by Robert Burns, 1875.
Allow me the freedom to suggest an alternative quote or word phrase, rather than that of a mournful and depressing quotation coming from a Scottish poet who has been dead for over 220 years. Maybe we should search for one across the Atlantic Ocean, in the State of Minnesota, and in the northern lands, beyond Duluth, on the East end of the Range. A blend of words that was created by local residents who live in the communities of Eveleth, Gilbert and Virginia. Perhaps our quotation should be simpler and shorter. Maybe a bit more relevant to our students and the world in which they will live in 2025, 2035, and 2045. A tad more optimistic and hopeful. More like, and allow me to be modern and local here: “Fiercely United.” As in “Rock Ridge Wolverines, Fiercely United.”
Perhaps this will serve our children and grandchildren better, as compared with the philosophical musings stirred by the movements of a Scottish mouse and the potential human folly, fear, and pain of trying to plan something out—such as the consolidation of two school districts. Grief and pain are always possible in any adventure. That is part of life. It is always easier to do nothing and wait for something to go wrong. However, there is also hope and life. And the possibilities of a better future. I suggest we look in that direction. As always, the choice is ours to make.
Dr. Noel Schmidt is the superintendent of Virginia Public Schools.