Thursday, July 16, 2015

Beware the Strawman

I frequently see ridiculous arguments, and sometimes they come from Leo Casey, evidently the intellectual colossus of our union, or AFT, or whoever it is he works for these days. For years I watched him on Edwize as he told us in lengthy articles why Carol Burris was wrong, why junk science APPR wasn't so bad, why the 2005 contract was worth voting for, why its opponents didn't believe in democracy, or why whatever leadership said was right, even if they blatantly contradict themselves.

It won't surprise you that I often disagreed with him, seeing odd leaps of logic. But I didn't have precise names for them until my young nephew offered me a brief lesson on logical fallacies. I then began to note how frequently I saw them in Casey's rationales of outrageous leadership decisions. A few heated conversations on Twitter over the AFT decision to endorse Hillary Clinton reminded me. I'll provide you with some samples.

This is a textbook strawman argument. It's a logical fallacy, and you ought not to be fooled by it.

First of all, Casey has no idea how many members there are in MORE, let alone how many supporters they have. The fact is they got a whole lot more votes than that in the last election.  But that's not even the point. Rather than address it, he chooses to put words in their mouths and ridicule rather than engage.

MORE never said or even implied that decisions should be made by them alone. In fact the avalanche of opposition, including thousands of negative comments on AFT's Facebook page suggests his assumption is invalid. But it doesn't even matter. A strawman is never a valid argument.

This condemns those of us who, like Diane Ravitch, disagree with Common Core. It's also another strawman. In fact, Professor Nicholas Tampio, to whom this was addressed, opposes Common Core and has written and spoken extensively about it. Casey offers no discussion of its merits or lack thereof. He simply equates Tampio with others who oppose it. That couples the strawman with "guilt by association," another logical fallacy. The assumption is that you agree with some group we find objectionable, so you are therefore wrong. In this case, Leo Casey is referring to GOP candidates. (Interestingly enough, 40% of those polled by AFT appear to be Republicans, and their opinions were completely disregarded. Therefore, if we accept the assertion that the poll was scientific, fair and random, if 3 out of 4 of the 60% left supported Hillary, it indicates she was supported by 45% of those polled.) It's ridiculous. But why not trot it out again anyway?

Even though Tampio had specifically said he didn't agree with GOP candidates, why not suggest he agrees with them anyway? That may be uninformed, or it may be disingenuous, but it's most certainly incorrect, and it's another exercise in the guilt by association fallacy.

Another strawman, another logical fallacy. I had responded to an assertion that there was a difference in voices at an AFT convention and on the internet.  Voices that disagree with AFT tend not to attend their conventions. I, for one, was not invited, and had no idea they were even having one. How much money does UFT spend sending loyalty oath signers to conventions? It must be millions. And while we're on that topic:

You'd better believe it's pejorative, and it's true I have no respect whatsoever for loyalty oaths. But it isn't those of us who call the loyalty oath a loyalty oath who are misleading. It is, in fact, the people who fail to notify us of its existence, let alone what it is or what it means.

Chapter leaders are elected to represent their members, not Leo Casey, not Michael Mulgrew and not their Unity Caucus. Most members have no idea their chapter leaders have agreed to vote as told. And the fact is the Unity Caucus has supported VAM, Common Core, and a multitude of things that negatively affect students and teachers. They can defend them all day long, but they most certainly contribute to the cynicism and despair of membership, as reflected in our miserable voter turnout. I vote all the time because I can't help myself, but members have asked me to my face why they should bother voting when the fix is in.

So what do you do if you don't like the decisions leadership makes for you?

I was pretty shocked by that, particularly as we are facing a decision by SCOTUS that may allow people to withhold dues altogether. I interpreted that to mean Casey was suggesting we leave the union. But Megan saw it otherwise.

It's nice that Megan, a member of the MORE group Casey ridiculed and misrepresented, was thoughtful enough to clarify for him. Would that he had the same courtesy for her and others. But even given this interpretation, his answer is disingenuous and misleading. The fact is the Unity Caucus is an elite, invitation only group. You must be sponsored by a member to join. So while there are other choices, the choice to join the caucus that makes all the decisions for our union is open only to a very small minority.
blog comments powered by Disqus