Research: When Is Enough Enough?

This morning, a post from Diane Ravitch’s blog appeared in my mailbox. Titled “Accused of Sexism!,” it tells a story of how an assumption of provenance can lead in peculiar directions.

Ravitch had assumed from her own cursory look that the so-called “Parent Trigger” had originated with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Where it came from, as she says, was pretty much irrelevant to her point:

Actually, I don’t care who came up with this obnoxious idea that 51% of the parents in a school can “seize control” of their public schools and hand it over to a private corporation.

It is a ludicrous idea, and anyone associated with it should hang their head in shame. A public school belongs to the public, not to 51% of those who use it today. It is a public trust, paid for by taxpayers, owned by the public, created for future generations, not for those who happen to be there this week or month or year.

A former California legislator named Gloria Romero took offense–not at Ravitch’s depiction of the concept but at being ignored as originator of the idea. In an odd article, “Diane Ravitch, please stop distorting the origins of the parent trigger,” she even throws in Mom. She makes one scratch one’s head, wondering at her point:

Remember, my generation learned lessons not only from the non-violent boycott of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., but also from the by-any-means-necessary view of Malcolm X. Therefore, I also believe in the urgency of now, the power of the boycott (yes, I knew Cesar Chavez too), and the courage it takes to declare that we shall overcome by any means necessary.

She goes on to make it a feminist issue:

As a university professor by training, I recognize that too often, women get left out of how history is written. We should never allow ourselves to perpetuate that silencing of women’s history and great women in historical movements.

About the only irrelevancy she misses is apple pie!

As blogs become more and more important to research, it is true that those who write them have a greater and greater responsibility to fact-check our own work. But when is enough enough? When does it matter? Any researcher should check beyond blogs, surely, just as no one should depend on Wikipedia as more than a starting point. So just how much can a blogger be expected to do for the subsequent researcher?

Ravitch’s concerns over the Parent Trigger are completely divorced from its creation. She simply wants to help see that it never be put into place. If Romero wants to take credit for it, she certainly won’t get an argument from Ravitch. Just the opposite:

If it started with Gloria Romero, shame on her. The “trigger” is a blatant effort to privatize more public schools. It is not in the interest of parents or children or communities, but in the interest of charter corporations.

Does she also support the idea that anyone who musters a 51% petition can privatize public parks, public housing, public transit, public libraries, and other public services? Does she also support the idea that 51% of charter school parents should have the right to convert their school back to the public sector?

When we write, we can only check so far. At some point, we have to rely on what others have written, be they bloggers or eminent scientists, and we have a subsequent obligation to point out errors. It is important that we publicly stand corrected in turn, but it gets rather silly when we are attacked (rather than simply corrected) for not checking on things trivial to our arguments.

All Romero had to do was ask Ravitch to post a correction and leave it at that.

All Ravitch or any other writer has to do is make the correction.

It should not have become the big deal Romero made of it.

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