April 1, 2011

Anatomy of a Controversy

Justin Katz

With over 250 comments, it'd take quite a bit of catching up, and the horrible policy of letting readers delete a comment when enough of them flag it as "inappropriate" makes the conversation difficult to follow, because comments (including Gordon's) suddenly disappear, but the response thread to this story on the Tiverton-LittleCompton Patch is a fascinating glimpse at the boiling of a controversy.

The story itself is about Tiverton High School student Cynda Martin's founding of a gay-straight alliance (GSA) group. There was no controversy in the group's founding, no push-back from the school, and the subject is a mildly more-topical variation of the local feel-good story. The controversy began when Budget Committee Member Joe Sousa and State Representative Dan Gordon expressed the opinion that schools should focus on academics, with the latter writing:

And this is why if I have anything to say about it, Tiverton will lose school funding to local charter schools. It doesn't matter if gay or straight, if sexual meet-up groups are being promoted in our schools rather than improving test scores, that school is failing. Is it really more important for our children to get 'sexed-up', than learning advanced math?

As I was quick to point out in the comments, what's reasonable in that paragraph is inartfully put and, in my view, errs in the approach to charters, which might very well emphasize such groups and the motivation for which ought to be to improve public schools, not defund them. What's not reasonable in the comment stems from a misunderstanding of the nature of such student groups and an apparent disconnect from the current state of acceptance of homosexuality in terms that aren't explicitly sexual, but amorous.

The indignant comments began to steamroll, with parents, students, and school faculty chiming in, especially when WRNI picked up the story as "Lawmaker wants to ban gay student group from Tiverton High School," RI Future tugged on the thread, and Gordon went on John DePetro's show. His fellow Tiverton rep. Jay Edwards eagerly condemned his comments, and the state Democrat Party got in on the action. Then Gordon made matters worse by returning to the comment section, where he wound up arguing about grammar with high school students.

Amidst a flurry of posts from students during the school day, yesterday, Tiverton tech teacher Edward Davis took the opportunity to decry a focus on test scores:

The popular trend is to say, "We are falling behind other countries, we need to get our scores up!" But research shows concentrating on test scores is not the solution. Harvard Graduate School of Education's recent study, "Pathways to Prosperity", looked into why our education system, that once led the world, has fallen behind. According to the report, most of the countries that have passed us up have developed career pathways that emphasize technical education and preperation for the workforce.

And not surprisingly, commenters — including Davis, but many anonymous — have dragged the local taxpayer group, Tiverton Citizens for Change (TCC), into it, because obviously one cannot limit taxation without having an anti-gay agenda... or something.

If you want a glimpse of the seams of personal politics, this controversy shows them. It really is fascinating, not to mention a case study for new politicians.


Although I thought it worth noting that teachers and students have been participating in online discussions during school hours, I don't think there's anything inherently objectionable about it. Given the state of technology, it's entirely feasible that everybody can post on the Internet during truly free time. (That kids might be better off socializing in person or doing something active is a different question.) And even were class time being used for that purpose, online discourse and politics are certainly legitimate areas of concern in some classes.

Comments, although monitored, are not necessarily representative of the views Anchor Rising's contributors or approved by them. We reserve the right to delete or modify comments for any reason.

Justin the TCC endorsed this fool. They choose him over an actually decent candidate based on what qualifications?

Posted by: triplerichard at April 1, 2011 8:11 AM

I didn't like Amy Rice, but Gordon is a moron to say the least. I wouldn't be shocked if he is RI's Larry Craig either! He has all the tell tail signs of a bathroom stall toe tapper.

Calling a Gay Straight Club a "Sex Club" is kin to calling a Math Club a place where they go to build bombs.

Posted by: Swazool at April 1, 2011 8:50 AM

Why is it that the "reformers" who claim to want to experiment with methods to improve public schools, refuse to look at the efficacy of using standardized testing? Any mention that the method is demonstrably harmful, brings a chorus of personal attacks on blogs like these.

So why is that? Why no skepticism? The only conclusion I can reach is that the initial premise is false: the goal is not to improve public schools but to use standardized testing as a stalking horse to eliminate or at least marginalize them in favor of privatization.

Posted by: Russ at April 1, 2011 9:22 AM

Major props to Justin for distinguishing bad policy decisions from what just seems like pure idiocy. Seriously. Mr. Gordon, I was wondering if you can see us all up here from that monster hole you've just dug yourself?

Forum commenters are funny that way -- dragging everything from tax policy to standardized testing into the "debate".

But I'm glad here's one thing that intelligent liberals and conservatives can agree on: we should encourage kids to take an active role in issues that interest them, as long as they aren't hurting anyone else.

Posted by: jparis at April 1, 2011 11:58 AM

Swazool: I beat Amy Rice, Dan Gordon took John Loughlin's open seat...I can understand the confusion, though...no worries.

Posted by: Dan Reilly at April 1, 2011 12:54 PM

Oops, same island, different a hole.
My bad.

Posted by: Swazool at April 1, 2011 2:24 PM

And thus we see the Left's blatant disregard for facts in favor of chanting whatever sing-song they received from their masters in the daily talking points.

As well as a glimpse of their real concern with civility.

Thanks for the unwitting revelation, Swaz.

Posted by: BobN at April 1, 2011 2:58 PM

"because obviously one cannot limit taxation without having an anti-gay agenda... or something."

Why, yes! As night follows day ... or something.

Posted by: Monique at April 1, 2011 9:27 PM

Monique do you agree with the comments that Gordon made and then his subsequent behavior in engaging high school students in arguments on the internet.
do you think Mr. Gordon is a smart guy and worthy of your support

Posted by: triplerichard at April 1, 2011 9:40 PM

Monique do you agree with the comments that Gordon made and then his subsequent behavior in engaging high school students in arguments on the internet.
do you think Mr. Gordon is a smart guy and worthy of your support

Posted by: triplerichard at April 1, 2011 9:41 PM

I have a whole new perspective on this situation. I have received a plethora of e-mails, phone calls, and Facebook postings, regarding my original comments regarding the Tiverton High School GSA.

All but three of those communications, contained screaming, or cursing, or threats, or a combination of all of the above. Even my personal Facebook page has been 'spoofed' and used to send vile messages under the guise of it being me. What happened to tolerance, acceptance, and anti-bullying?

There has been nearly zero productive debate, offers of attendance to one of the GSA meetings, or a rational debate. I thus stand by my original opinion.

I was truly hoping to be wrong.

p.s.~ Anonymous posters are ignored.


Posted by: Rep. Dan Gordon at April 1, 2011 10:12 PM

Thank you, Rep. Gordon, for proving that liberals do not possess a monopoly on the politics of victimization.
I'm heartened to see that people on BOTH sides of the same-sex marriage debate are rejecting your attacks on high school kids and standing up to an adult bully.

Posted by: bella at April 2, 2011 12:08 AM

The whole issue of a "sex club"seems strange.
This gay-straight alliance sounds more like a group addressing orientation issues rather than meeting up to get busy.If you need a club for that,you're in trouble.
There's nothing okay about bullying a kid because they're homosexual.Thier life is already going to be more complicated than normal.
BTW,other than a cousin I almost never see,no one in my family is homosexual,so I don't have a personal stake in this that's driving my opinion.
Rep.Gordon,with all due respect,concentrate on finding out things like why Peter Asen,the leftist agitator from Ocean State Action got a newly created job in the House for $60,000/year.
Or on defearing Gump's abominable tax plan.

Posted by: joe bernstein at April 2, 2011 4:07 AM

Mr. Gordon could you please explain how the reaction to your opinion from people all over Rhode Island and America proves that your original point about the GSA being a sexual meet up group is correct.

I know that I will probably be ignored because I am an anonymous poster but I am also a voter in your district. We all know that the real reason for you ignoring my question will be that you have no good answer.

As for your facebook page being spoofed, please explain more about what that means. I have seen it and the posters all just seem to be asking for an apology or at best a reasonable explanation.

You should spend more time educating yourself about the many types of people in your district and less time looking for publicity and fame on the talk radio channels.

Posted by: triplerichard at April 2, 2011 10:28 AM

Mr. Gordon: Funny thing here... most of the people I know outraged by your behavior are focused on the more productive way of dealing with it -- finding an acceptably sane candidate to run against you in the primary, and hopefully in the general election as well.

You can say you're sticking by your guns because you've received threats from left-wing crazies if you want -- but that doesn't fit the scientific notion of causality. Just because there are left-wing crazies in this world, doesn't mean you have to attack student groups who aren't doing anyone any harm.

And just because there are right-wing crazies in this world, doesn't mean I disagree with every conservative. Just in this particular case, particularly with yourself, I am diametrically opposed to what is quite possibly an attempt to stifle the freedom of association codified in the 1st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

I'm sorry people threatened you and used foul language. I wouldn't like that either.

However, two wrongs don't make a right. That's something my parents taught me when I was a child. Your post here would seem to indicate you never received that lesson.

So tell us sir, are you sticking to your guns out of spite for the people who have attacked you? Or are you doing it because you really believe these kids were doing something wrong?

Triplerichard might be anonymous, but you should have no qualms with responding to me, right?

Jake W. Paris
Resident of Providence, RI

Posted by: jparis at April 2, 2011 1:51 PM


Posted by: Swazool at April 2, 2011 9:44 PM

Mr. Gordon drops in, lays a few bombs, and quickly walks away when pressed.

This will be a great thread to grave-dig during the Republican Primary.

Posted by: jpa at April 5, 2011 11:14 AM

It's now "former Tiverton Tech Ed Teacher." Although I am still a resident of the town, I am now working at Durfee High School. If the vote at the TFM would have went the other way I would have lost my job in Tiverton. When Durfee offered a job teaching web design, making the same money, I took it. I would have had to work 13 years to retire in RI. In MA, I need only 4 more years. No brainer!

I do not know how you figure I dragged the TCC into it. I do not think the GSA issue has anything to do with the TCC. In fact, I thought you, for once, were defending the schools.

As far as my comment, I am a huge believer in what the study, Pathways for Prosperity, made public, By embedding academics into work base learning, students see its purpose and become more willing to learn. At Durfee we have 5 vocational tracks (Cosmetology, Culinary Arts, Early Child Development, Medical Assistance,& Visual Design)and 14 Career Ed Pathways. We are in the process of adding a dozen more. Kids can leave our school, and walk into employment. Being a CNA won't make you rich, but it beats $8 an hour and it opens doors for inner city kids that know what true poverty is.

When I make my points about test scores I am not saying it to defend my position as a Tiverton Teacher. I am sure that is what many thought of me while I worked there. Whether it is MCAS or NECAP, I think it is blown out of proportion. True, they are part of the equation. But I think we should focus on preparing kids for the world of work.

Biased? You bet! But I know of at least a dozen kids, who did not have the money to go to a four year college, that were working in the IT field less than a year after they graduated. They went for a 1 year certificate right after graduation, and got a job right away. There not getting their paychecks because of their NECAP scores. There getting it because of the Career and Technical Training. If doing that was failing the children of Tiverton, I am guilty.

Posted by: Edward Davis at April 7, 2011 7:10 PM
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