Monday, April 06, 2015

Joplin Globe weakens letter urging change on R-8 Board

 Each fall, during the first week of the school year, I used to tell my students there were certain bad words I would not allow them to use in their papers.

They would nod their heads. This was their teacher telling them he would not accept any vulgarities.

:"And now," I said, "I will write those words on the board."

That always caught their attention. The words, however, were not the ones they may have been expecting.

I think.

I believe.

I don't think.

I don't believe.

There were a few others.

Why were those bad words the students wanted to know and I always used the same example, year after year, choosing a member of the class.

"Listen to these two sentences," I said, "and tell me which one sounds stronger. I think Jennifer is a good student." I paused and then said, "Jennifer is a good student."

Both sentences meant the same thing. Both were opinions, but when I removed the words "I think," I removed the element of doubt.

The editors of the Joplin Globe obviously do not subscribe to my theories on writing. In the Sunday Letters to the Editor, a Globe editor deliberately weakened a letter written by Ryan Jackson by inserting an element of doubt that was not in the original letter.

Consider this portion of Jackson's original letter:

Ever since our current superintendent has came to run our school district, the schools' academic scores have continually fell year after year. Where our school district was once accredited with distinction, and was one of the most well thought of districts in the entire state; the current administration has not kept up that level of academic excellence and has used many excuses to blame it on something else. And yes while the tornado did present certain challenges to our schools, this trend start in the years prior to the tornado.

Note the changes the Globe made (or had Jackson make) in the letter that ran on Sunday's opinion page:

I believe that since our current superintendent came to our school district, the focus has not been on academic performance. Yes, the tornado did present certain challenges to our schools, but I believe some of the problems started in the years prior to the tornado.

Not only did the Globe add "I believe" and an element of doubt to Jackson's writing twice, but it also eliminated references to scores falling year after year, which candidate Jeff Koch showed in a post on his Facebook page over the weekend is demonstrably true and to the district being "accredited with distinction" before C. J. Huff arrived.

The changes to Ryan Jackson's letter were not the only not-so-subtle maneuvers the Globe made to influence opinion Sunday. As noted in a post Sunday night, an article previewing the R-8 election stated that Board President Anne Sharp and Jeff Koch were virtually assured of election because of the third candidate on the ballot, former Joplin Police Chief Lane Roberts, being appointed director of the Missouri Department of Public Safety. This proclamation was made despite Roberts' name continuing to be on the ballot and a movement that has been well publicized (except in the Globe) to have people vote for Koch and Roberts to keep Anne Sharp from being re-elected.

The placement of Jackson's letter, grouping it with two other letters to the editor in the middle of the first editorial page, did not necessarily keep anyone from reading it, but at the top of the opposite page, given special treatment, was a "guest column" by Clifford Wert praising the works of Superintendent C. J. Huff and the current Board of Education.

While Jackson's letter was edited, Wert's column sprawls across one third of the page. In it, Wert goes on for column after column about the many achievements of the school district. The Globe found room for all of this, but could not find space to allow Jackson to mention that the district was accredited with distinction at one time, but has not been able to achieve that since Huff's arrival.

It found room for Wert to praise the foresight of Joplin's school leaders and absolve them of their failures, but couldn't allow one sentence for Ryan Jackson to mention that test scores have fallen every year since C. J. Huff began his tenure as superintendent.

Wert's guest column appears to be packed with information provided to him by C. J. Huff and not one "I believe" or "I think," was inserted into the copy to weaken its impact.

At the end of his guest column, Wert was described as "a retired Joplin banker, served on the CART following the 2011 Joplin Tornado."

While that is certainly true, it conveniently fails to mention that Wert is also head of the Joplin Progress Committee, which has contributed more than $5,000 to school board candidates Anne Sharp and Nancy Good.

Nor does it mention that he lives in Webb City.

The same kind of manipulation took place a week earlier on the Globe's Sunday opinion page. In the place where Clifford Wert's "guest column" ran yesterday, the Globe ran a "guest column" by Bob Steere, who was described solely as being from Joplin.

Steere expressed strong criticism of the Joplin R-8 School District. Perhaps readers would have benefited in knowing that Steere was not only a Joplin resident, but also is a retired professor from the Missouri Southern State University education department and a noted author with much expertise on the subject he addressed in his guest column.

I suppose we should just be grateful that the Globe offered him the space.


Anonymous said...

I'll be flat honest Randy, for a bit I thought you were just grinding an axe against R-8 and even maybe a bit whining but as more and more come out and your proving your points with indisputable facts, it's kind of proving the old adage, just because your paranoid doesn't mean someone isn't out to get you.

Anonymous said...

What percentage of the teachers live in Joplin?

Anonymous said...

AND... Clifford Wort has lived in Webb City for years and years. His children graduated from Webb City High School.