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Another Swing and a Miss from the UFT on Baseball, Education

it's just... so easy

Eduwonkette gives the Moneyball/education links in chronological order – my original entry is here.

I’m pleased that the issue is getting some attention. It’s a worthwhile discussion and there are important points on both sides.

The UFT’s Leo Casey responded to my post by telling us that teachers are not commodities. After waxing impotent on the romance of our national pastime, Casey advises that we gird ourselves before continuing:

“You will quickly find yourself waist deep in a big muddy [sic] of ad hominem arguments, which begin with an all-out Tabor assault on the distinguished New York Times sports columnist Murray Chass, the author of the column I cited as criticism of Beane’s statistical measures.”

Though Casey is talking about a post written by an Andrew Tabor, I’ll take responsibility and respond for Andy. He goes on:

“Chass is a baseball “traditionalist,” and for Tabor this means he is “obnoxiously wrong,” “grating,” “a crotchety, stubborn, pigheaded SOB,” …well you get the drift.”

At least Chass isn’t lonely in the “obnoxiously wrong” pen.

Murray Chass’ contributions to baseball journalism are rivaled by few; that’s why his 40+ years of insight earned him the Baseball Writers Association of America nod for the J.G. Taylor Spink award in 2003. He doesn’t have a plaque, but he’s got a permanent spot in the National Baseball Hall of Fame because he earned the respect of his colleagues. And, even though I find little of his current analysis compelling, I’d defend his place in the annals of baseball lore.

There’s no doubt that Chass is famous for rejecting many statistical measures of the game – he thinks that they have had, are having, and will continue to have a negative effect on how baseball is played and how fans regard baseball. His Wikipedia entry has a decent line describing his philosophy:

“Chass is a noted baseball traditionalist who laments the shift in baseball news coverage from daily beat-report biographies (the common purview of columnists like Chass) to more statistics-driven analysis (sometimes called sabermetrics), exemplified by Baseball Prospectus and used by both fantasy baseball leagues and, increasingly, Major League Baseball team management.”

He might be right. But, as I showed in his Feb. 27, 2007 Times piece, he is often crotchety, stubborn, pigheaded, etc. about his stance. It’s part of his charm; it’s the niche he’s chosen to carve. Some love him, some love to hate him, but he generates passion and discussion on both sides.

In a striking, but not uncommon, display of intellectual irresponsibility, Casey cherrypicked those words with the hope – or more likely, the certainty – that readers wouldn’t click through to see my original text. In describing Chass’ stance, I said:

“That’s fine, because Murray Chass is a traditionalist to a fault and I’m used to him being obnoxiously wrong about some things. He’s grating and charming at the same time and sportswriting would be less interesting without him. Every sector needs a crotchety, stubborn, pigheaded SOB here and there, and Chass is one of baseball’s.”

Chass is obnoxiously wrong about some things, which implies that he’s quite right about others. Casey omitted “charming” and my comment that sportswriting would be lesser without his contributions. Casey did this because it was convenient for him to do so. He shamelessly betrayed my clear intent to bolster a poor argument he couldn’t otherwise support.

I truly believe that we need Chasses in every sector [and I'll probably be one eventually]. We all need Andy Rooneys, Jonathan Kozols and the like. Sometimes they seem irrational and crazy; other times they give us sober, sound commentary that snaps us back to reality when we need it most.

And, like Chass, I’m a traditionalist. I don’t equate traditionalism or conservatism with “bad,” and Casey’s implication that I do is inexcusable and unsupportable. Traditionalism can, however, be a problem when it causes one to be willfully blind to potential progress – or resisting exploration that might result in that progress.

I also take umbrage with Casey’s characterization of my comments re: Chass as cheap ad hominem tactics. They aren’t. An ad hominem strategy is one that discounts an argument by pointing to personal attributes, characteristics, beliefs, etc. that are unrelated to that argument. Saying that Chass’ thoughts on baseball mean less because he’s a rotten father [hypothetical] would qualify as ad hominem. Suggesting that Chass’ points are invalid because he’s dumb, fat [both hypothetical] or looks funny [always debatable] are ad hominems.

Citing Chass’ body of professional work – statements made by him about his refusal to investigate in good faith the merits of an argument he summarily struck down – is anything but ad hominem. I exposed a deficiency in his reasoning – the reasoning that Leo Casey championed in what he thought was a refutation of Kevin Carey’s argument. Laying bare the flaws in Casey’s or Chass’ dialectic might make them feel bad, but they aren’t ad hominem attacks. He goes on:

“And that’s only the half of it. It seems that the fact I cited Murray Chass is grounds for another wave of ad hominems aimed in my direction: this proves that I am “witless” and “engaging in disingenuous propaganda.” “Very UFT of you,” he writes about me, as I were supposed to take this as the supreme insult.”

Casey’s use of Chass was a poor way to support his argument, as I showed in my original post. In his response, Casey willfully and knowledgeably twisted information for the benefit of his argument.

I said “Very UFT of you,” and referenced “disingenuous propaganda,” because Casey has, in addition to the offenses detailed above, persistently engaged in irresponsible, all-around intellectual slovenliness:

  • Accused Disney of engaging in a conspiracy to erase the record of his past award [debunked here];
  • Accused unjustly a rival organization of using Nazi symbolism – involving historically-common workers’ rights imagery, no less;
  • Asked for “open, lively debate” in education, while censoring comments by his own union’s members on Edwize, deleting/denying trackbacks from critical posts, etc.

Casey accuses me of setting up straw men, then reduces my position to suggesting that teachers are no better than slaves, simply, “commodities, property to be bought and sold on a marketplace, waiting to be exploited.” Then he references the landmark labor case Flood v. Kuhn, saying that Flood “spoke eloquently on this very subject [workers as commodities].” Teachers can change jobs while MLB players were subject to the reserve clause; LAUSD can’t trade a teacher against his will to NYC Schools; etc.

Once again, ignorance trumps fact and does a disservice to both sides of the argument.

Mercifully, his last paragraph:

“Tabor’s suggestion that reducing teachers to commodities has anything to do with improving education is a perspective only possible from outside of actual classrooms and schools. Ever since Socrates, teachers have known that at its core, education is a matter of human relationship and human dialogue, between ourselves and our students. It is about the development — not the exploitation — of human potential.”

Casey exploits another fallacy [and seizes upon only the most heinous definition of exploit]: the emotional appeal. How dare I – or anyone else – criticize the development of mankind? Or suppress human relationships and dialogue? [I'm such a heartless guy that I argued here and elsewhere that we need to respect the dignity of the profession.]

If I were Casey’s superior at the UFT [or a corresponding superior at the AFT], I’d be embarrassed. I would be ashamed that a man previously lauded for teaching – one who is surrounded by educators and works on their behalf – presents arguments like a petty, particularly unremarkable 8th grader. I’d suspend his work on the Edwize blog and enroll him in community college classes in both Composition and Reasoning/Argumentation. It’s a start.

If I were paying dues to the UFT, I’d be outraged – and I wouldn’t put up with it anymore.

For some brief commentary [that has some merit] on using value-added metrics to evaluate teaching, see Ed Muir’s short response on the AFT’s NCLBlog or Steve Koss’s [less compelling to me, but still worth reading] piece at NYC Public School Parents.

For knee-jerk, partisan pouting based on fallacies – unburdened by even 30 seconds of Google research – by all means, continue to read Edwize.

2 Responses to “Another Swing and a Miss from the UFT on Baseball, Education”

  1. Colin says:

    he straw manned an ad hominem! A bunch of kids in logic 101 just had their mind blown.

  2. I think I finally figured out how to describe all this.

    It’s a logical garbage plate:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Garbage_plate

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