Sunday, February 27, 2005

Not cool

I was a little surprised to learn, via a Brad Warthen editorial in The State, that the blogger for the South Carolina group pushing for what it calls "putting parents in charge" and what I call "taking money away from public schools and giving it to middle class and rich people" is as snarky and juvenile as, well, me.

MANY, IF NOT most, folks who find Gov. Mark Sanford’s proposal to give tax credits for private school tuition appealing are well-meaning, in my experience. What little they’ve heard about it sounds good enough that they’re for it, without actually being against anyone or anything.

Not so with South Carolinians for Responsible Government, the obliquely named group that is the main South Carolina expression of the national movement pushing “school choice.” Like its e-mails, the blog on the SCRG Web site is salted generously with the “guerrilla tactics” approach of the group’s founder.

For example: On Jan. 28, the weblog referred to Inez Tenenbaum as “Frau Tenenbaum.”

Here’s the context: “Despite all the lies that are being told to the contrary, Milwaukeeans love their school choice plan. (And why not? It increases graduation rates and student achievement. Let’s see Frau Tenenbaum do that!)”

At least, that’s what it used to say. If you look today at http://scresponsiblegov.org/content.asp?catID=8093, it will say (unless it was changed since Friday) “Frau* Madame Tenenbaum,” with the “Frau” marked through with a line. The asterisk leads you to a footnote that says: “For reasons that aren’t clear, Mrs. Tenenbaum didn’t like our use of the German word for ‘Mrs.’ Although we don’t usually yield to the bullying of would-be censors, as a courtesy to Mrs. Tenenbaum, we’ve decided to go with the French.”

But why use a German honorific to begin with? Or a French one? It was just “something different to put on there,” SCRG spokesman Denver Merrill told me Friday. “There was really no other thought put into it. It’s a blog.... It’s edgier.”
Indeed. Much of the material on the blog is a mix of scorn, petulance and outright hostility toward those who defend public education from SCRG’s agenda.
This approach doesn’t seem to be winning over many converts, based on the bill’s lukewarm reception thus far in the Legislature.

It has, however, succeeded in drawing strong responses. Mrs. Tenenbaum’s husband, who is Jewish and mindful of the history of the 20th century, hit the roof over the “Frau” reference. And as he told me, it was he who objected to the reference, not his wife. (To disclose, Samuel Tenenbaum has been a friend ever since we participated in a Catholic-Jewish dialogue group years ago.)

He didn’t object to SCRG. He complained to the governor’s press secretary, Will Folks. He wasn’t the only one. Prominent Columbia attorney Steve Morrison wrote to Mr. Folks as follows (he attributes the misspellings to having hastily thumbed the message out on his Blackberry):

“The folks at scresponsiblegov.org have crossed the line of ordinary human decency in calling Superintendent Tennenbaum ‘Frau Tennenbaum’. This monicker contains the specter of German attrocities, raises the shadow of Nazi totalanarianism.... The term ‘Frau’ is not funny or cute in this context.... Thank you for your urgent attention. Steve”


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