Stand By Our Teachers and Librarians

From Publishers Weekly:

I had a bit of a situation recently after I featured my newest nonfiction picture book in a presentation to a Texas audience of engrossed fourth graders and their unnerved teachers. By “a bit of a situation,” I mean it was a Very 2022 Mess that threatened to spill over into my scheduled visits to several other elementary schools in the same district.

The book in question was Moving Forward: From Space-Age Rides to Civil Rights Sit-ins with Airman Alton Yates, illustrated by Steffi Walthall and published by Simon & Schuster’s Beach Lane Books. At the heart of things was a request—soon followed by multiple requests—that I instead present a different, not-civil-rights-related book to other local students. And behind that initial request? Fear.

The details are convoluted and not terribly important. But there are two takeaways:

1) Through a lot of private dialogue with the librarians hosting me in the district, we worked things out, and my presentations at the other schools I visited did indeed focus on Moving Forward—a story of courage, sacrifice, teamwork, progress, and public service—in its entirety.

2) You and I can help prevent situations like this from occurring in the first place.

I assume it’ll come as no surprise to you to hear that there’s an anti-democratic mob attacking this country’s schools, libraries, educators, and librarians—unless you yourself are part of the anti-democratic mob, in which case that might not be how you’d characterize yourself. (You’d be wrong.)

This mob is deliberately whipping up a climate of politicized fear as it strives to cast books, public education, diversity, and the freedom to read as threats to be repelled by them rather than as resources and gifts to be treasured by us all. I don’t believe that this noisy, unruly element represents the majority of us. What this element lacks in numbers, however, it makes up for in commitment to making itself heard and getting its way. But for those of us in the majority—those of us who, among other things, oppose using intimidation to suppress ideas we don’t like—what we boast in sheer numbers, we seem to lack in commitment to putting our strengths and values to work.

Specifically, I see far too little demonstrated support for the people who keep our schools and libraries going. I don’t mean support only when a particular institution is under assault; I’m talking about routine, proactive, never-taking-them-for-granted support. And if teachers, librarians, and the people who work with them—including administrators and public officials—don’t get a sense of that support from the broader population, what exactly is going to reinforce their resolve to do the democracy-minded thing when they’re under pressure from the aggressive and all-too-visible reactionary fringe?

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG notes that it’s a natural human reaction to disagreements about values for each side of the disagreement to defend their own personal values.

Unfortunately, there’s also a natural human reaction during such disagreements to denigrate people who disagree with your opinions. Such reactions, at least these days in the United States, quickly move to reliance on Ad Hoc arguments, sometimes called Ad Hoc fallacies.

Here’s a definition:

Ad hoc fallacy is a fallacious rhetorical strategy in which a person presents a new explanation – that is unjustified or simply unreasonable – of why their original belief or hypothesis is correct after evidence that contradicts the previous explanation has emerged.

As such, it’s an attempt to protect one’s claim from any potential refutations and thus preserve their existing beliefs. Furthermore, the explanation is specifically constructed to be used in a particular case and is created hastily at the moment rather than being the result of deliberate, fact-based reasoning.

Link to more at Fallacy In Logic

A second element PG has seen in disputes like that described in the OP is the fallacy of Appeal to Authority.

Here’s a definition:

Appeal to authority is a common type of fallacy, or an argument based on unsound logic.

When writers or speakers use appeal to authority, they are claiming that something must be true because it is believed by someone who said to be an “authority” on the subject. Whether the person is actually an authority or not, the logic is unsound. Instead of presenting actual evidence, the argument just relies on the credibility of the “authority.”

Link to more at SoftSchools

13 thoughts on “Stand By Our Teachers and Librarians”

  1. It’s worth remembering, too, that there’s a fallacy on the flip side of the Argument From Authority: the ad hominem attack. At the risk of invoking Godwin’s Law, here’s an example:

    P Hitler was an evil, evil man.
    p Hitler advocated vegetarianism.
    C Therefore, advocating vegetarianism is evil.

    Any argument method that considers solely a not-on-point reputational aspect of the source is fallacious, whether positive (argument from authority) or negative (ad hominem). An argument that considers on-point reputational aspects of the source when considering a nonintuitive position — a nurse with a decade of experience expressing skepticism about how well at-home patients will actually use a New! Improved! manual-read sphygmomanometer — is a different, and nonfallacious, issue; the fun part can be teasing out just how on-point the reputational aspects are.

    • Of course, some arguments are

      P Vegetarianism is virtuous.
      P’ I am a vegetarian.
      C Therefore, I am virtuous.

      This is the most frequent argument I see that is countered by the just as logical syllogism about Hitler.

      • The Law of Detachment states that if a general proposition is true then the particular case is also true. If we assume that a vegetarian is in fact a particular case of vegetarianism then this is a true syllogism. If it is actually false the falsity stems from the fact that the first statement is not true.

        There’s a separate question about parts and wholes. Maybe.

        But it really doesn’t match the Hitler argument which simplifies to If I am Hitler, then I am evil. If I am Hitler then i like vegetables. There are no conclusions that can be drawn from these two statements that will connect evil and vegetables.

        • You are quite wrong. The syllogism offered by Writing Observer is invalid because of the fallacy of equivocation. ‘Virtuous’ in the first term refers to the moral valence of an act. ‘Virtuous’ in the third term refers to the overall moral character of a person, which is quite a different matter. You might as well say this is valid:

          P: Cyanide is poisonous.
          P’: Arsenic is not cyanide.
          C: Arsenic is not poisonous.

          It is not true that vegetarianism is the sole and sufficient standard of virtue, but by equivocation the idea is smuggled in. Nor is it true that cyanide is the only poison under the sun. Both syllogisms are invalid for the same reason.

          • This is precisely why the ad hominem argument is invalid and fallacious:

            {value of argument} is not congruent with {non-directly-relevant reputation of speaker}

            which describes the problems with both the ad hominem fallacy and the argument from authority fallacy. The latter instance is complicated by inaccurate claims of authority; the historical example of celibate members of organized-religious hierarchies claiming authority in “how to raise morally strong and conforming children” is just one example. This involves a claim by the speaker — usually implicitly, sometimes explicitly — of directly relevant expertise where the speaker either has none or has a separate agenda for the claim.

          • Not quite. The difference between ad hominem and argument from authority, and equivocation lies in the type of assertions.

            That cyanide is poisonous is a hard fact. That arsenic is not cyanide is a hard fact. Equivocation is the relating of two undoubtable assertions to reach a false conclusion.

            Ad hominem and argument from authority depend on combining one (or more) hard facts with one or more opinion(s). That Hitler was evil is an opinion, as is that vegetarianism is virtuous. (Not a recognized logical fallacy, but I call both of these a “meta-fallacy” of “argument from consensus.” Sad aside here, consensus is not 100% even on the evil of Hitler, even though that would still leave it as an opinion, not a hard fact.)

  2. I’ve noticed lots of people losing confidence in those who consider their own interpretation of facts to be facts in themselves. That includes pronouncements of authors, librarians, and school administrators. So, we can expect much more examination of what school boards and employees do. Support may or may not follow.

    • Worth noting here is the rather interesting notion in the OP that the censorship the author is complaining about is “anti-democratic.” No, it is in fact quite democratic, since it is largely coming from the people.
      Now, it may well be illiberal, and still a bad idea, but the sort of confused thinking demonstrated here is part of the reason why the would-be censors have gained so much traction.

      Also, side note, who wants to bet that the author of the OP was freaking out over Elon Musk buying Twitter because he might let Trump back on?

      • And also ignores the blatant censorious behavior of Leftist Twitter mobs and publishing insiders who have had the publication of certain books cancelled or withdrawn because they don’t meet (faddish and ephemeral) Leftist ideals.

    • Institutions, too.
      Government in general, right now.
      It comes from the loss of reputational authority; once enough members of an institution are proven to be wrong, mendacious, self-serving, or all of tbe above, it becomes an article of faith that all of its members and the institution itself are the same way.

      Rationalists and philosophers can detail the reasons why judging the whole by the sins of some parts is fallacious but it doesn’t matter because humans in general, and masses in particular, aren’t in fact rational. Logic becomes meaningless.

      In the particular case of educators, their presumption of competence has long been suspect for lack of aggregate performance and the sporadic high visibility crimes of some of its membership. In the last two years their last remnant of credibility vanished under the light of remote teaching–which exposed the disconnect between the morality teachings of many, if not most, schools and the local community mores–compounded by the positioning of several (most?) teacher unions who refused to return to work as the pandemic lockdowns were lifted yet insisted on full pay at a time many were out and about to earn theirs to avoid unemployment.

      The OP is concerned about tbe pushback towards the institutions without bothering to consider the *causes* of the pushback or whether or not the pushback might be earned in at least some cases. This blanket presumption of institutional virtue and unwillingness to address the floated issues only feeds the pushback. The result of this institutional tunnel vision and refusal to even consider even documented failures such as last year’s Loudon County rapes is the snowballing of attacks on the institution. The recent school board elections in several Texas counties that saw every single incumbent ousted are a portent of tbings to come. Which is greater pushback, louder protests against the pushback, and even more IdiotPolitician™ involvement than we’re already seeing.

      The loss of institutional confidence is ongoing and in most cases ongoing.
      I’ve seen it suggested that the root cause is the presumption of many official experts that tbeir competence in one small sphere automatically renders them competent in other areas, both related and unrelated.

      Institutional hubris, as it were.

      We’ll be seeing more of this as tbe ongoing institutional crisis blooms in parallel with the death of globalization. The “system” has simply grown too complex and interdependent for hundred year old centralized institutions focused on their own narrow agendas to cope with.

      The perfect example being the current shortage of infant formula where tbe FDA’s new leadership, apparently concerned that old leadership was too slow to act on surfaced threats, not only mandated a recall of potentially infected formula (over 4 infant deaths) but also mandated a shutdown of tbe Michigan plant for total disinfection over the company’s objection that tbefe was no proven link between the bacterial infection and the plant itself.

      This fast and well-considered(?) FDA mandate came after the lockdowns led to the ongoing supply chain degradation and a baby boomlet at its end. The closure of one of the main local sources of baby formula, a regional shortage now becoming national, and after the discovery of large quantities of formula stockpiled at the border for use of undocumenteds, a political firestorm and a direct presidential appeal to producers and importers. Which will achieve nothing. Because the remaining plants are already operating at maximum, the shut down plant still has weeks to go before it can *start* to ramp up and more before it can backfill tbe supply chain. And of course, any imports that might be available (good luck with that: the US is one of the biggest *exporters*) won’t show up until after the crisis is over. Oh, and the border stockpiles that led to Presidential involvement? Mandated by a single district court judge in 1999 in response to concerns over support of undocumenteds at border facilities.

      The Law of Unintended Consequences writ large: a narrow focus decision by an expert in one area without regard to the greater context of the times boomeranged and created a very real danger to the very kids tbey sought to protect from a hypotethical threat. Compounded to create a political handwringing “crisis” by a decades old mandate by an expert in a totally unrelated field.

      The US population has grown threefold since most of the ruling institutions were created and tbe country and industry have become immeasurably more complex. As conspiration tbeory proponents say : “It’s all connected”. 😀

      The book I linked to rails against “technocrats”, probably correctly, but tbe prescription of a more “holistic” regulation framework strikes me as undoable. Good, well documented diagnosis; dubious prognosis. Anybody curious can find on youtube a long audio version published by tbe author, apparently. He thinks tbings will get much better. Eventually.

      I have my doubts.
      Regardless I agree the next few years will not be fun on a macro scale.
      Expect way more pieces like tbe OP from publishing and other old school institutions. They all need major reworking before regaining tbe trust of tbe masses. If ever.

      • I’ve seen it suggested that the root cause is the presumption of many official experts that tbeir competence in one small sphere automatically renders them competent in other areas, both related and unrelated.

        Its worse than that. The experts have demonstrated they lack competence in that one small sphere where they are credentialed. Performance and accomplishment have been divorced from intentions and activity.

        Watching current events unfold, I am continually reminded of how the credentialed experts in one field after another condemned Trump for telling Europe its increasing dependence on Russian energy would lead to disaster. Those experts told us such things can’t happen in the new globally connected world.

        • Well, those experts are history by now. As is their world view. War happened in the globally connected world and it will happen in the regionally connected world that is coming. Only difference is the US will limit itself to platitudes, moving forward. There will be more failed states in Africa and Asia and local wars, civil or uncivil and the new regimes will shrug them off.

          The US has been trending isolationist for decades now, sick-n-tired of maintaining the globalist status quo at its own expense. Regardless of what happens in Ukraine and Taiwan the new US policy is going to be the old, old policy of spheres of influence. Main players look to be Poland, Turkey, Japan, Australia, and India. Maybe Indonesia. And the US, working under “you don’t mess with us, we don’t mess with you”.

          What will be most interesting (to me, anyway) is what happens in space after russia and China collapse demographically. It’s no longer a game of governments so it no longer depends on IdiotPoliticians™, here or in the UN. And if PSYCHE is really all-metal things are going to get very touchy very fast starting in 2027. Especially if STARSHIP is flying by then.

          A lot will depend on tbe USSF. 😀

  3. Back in the day I used to process cases from divorced people, many of whom sought to paint their exes as villains. To be expected, I guess. Their stories frequently failed to ring true because of the maddening way they would tell them. Things that made me go “Hmmm”:

    ~ Events would happen without any rational cause
    ~ Events would happen without any rational effect

    The subject’s exes would supposedly commit extraordinary acts at random, out of the blue, seemingly for no reason at all. When the subject shared a reason, it was always severed from context, and always sounded absurd. Or, incredible incidents would supposedly occur with responses from participants that I could only describe as “non-sequiturs” when the subject bothered to mention a response at all.

    Because I couldn’t communicate with these weirdos directly, I was always left to wonder if 1) the tale-teller was just too dumb to realize how ridiculous their story sounded, or 2) they were visiting from another dimension where humans don’t have motives for actions, nor react to stimuli.

    Enlightenment came when someone linked the “Missing Missing Reasons.” That site’s focus is on estranged parents, but they’re not the only ones who have this particular tell: “Relative wrote me a 10 page letter ranting at me. I have no idea why they’re mad at me.” Oh. Really? Ten page rant, and somehow the relative never got around to saying what they were mad about, eh? Sure, Jan.

    The OP: parents suddenly, out of the blue, for no reason at all, are suddenly hot to ban books. Hey, what a strange thing to do in a country famously keen on the free exchange of ideas. Wonder if something might have prompted parents to do this strange thing? Oh, you’re going with “parents are gullible and easily led by evildoers who are tricking them for some reason.” Sure, Jan.

    People tell the author they don’t want author reading his book to kids. Obvious question a human would ask: why? Interdimensional alien claims:

    The details are convoluted and not terribly important.

    Uh huh. I’m willing to bet the details would highlight the true answer to the first question, about why parents are scrutinizing the books schools give their kids to read. Perhaps my perception is clouded by my permanent burn-out from this style of testimony, but the denigration of dissenters is enough to make me unwilling to extend the benefit of the doubt.


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