Reconsidering rhetoric

(From MPR’s Tim Pugmire)

The chair of the House Education Reform Committee is apologizing today for her use of the word “Gestapo” to criticize a teacher training proposal.

Officials with the statewide teachers union Education Minnesota said Tuesday they would support an alternative licensing program if participants were kept under close supervision for 90 days. Republican Representative Sondra Erickson of Princeton told MPR news she thought that requirement sounded like the “teacher Gestapo.” Erickson, who’s a retired teacher, says her word choice was inappropriate.

Here’s the segment of the story that caused the problem:


Education Minnesota is also proposing a new system to annually review the job performance of teachers throughout the state.

Republican leaders in the House and Senate are moving quickly on an alternative licensure bill. An initial hearing is scheduled Thursday.

Rep. Sondra Erickson, R-Princeton, who chairs the House Education Reform Committee, said she thinks Education Minnesota shares many of her goals when it comes to alternative licensure. But Erickson said she doesn’t like the 90 days of supervision.

“It sounds like the teacher Gestapo to me. I think that if a candidate comes out of one of these programs, he or she is going to be well-prepared to be in the classroom,” said Erickson. “If a district has decided that candidate should be in the classroom, I’m not sure why we would need that Gestapo at work, and I would like to visit with them about that.”

“My apologies to everyone out there. I certainly didn’t intend to cast dispersions [sic] on my profession. I love my profession. I think the world of teachers. I guess I just have a little problem with the unions demands, and we’ll work that out.”

The head of the Minnesota AFL-CIO and many educators were publicly demanding the apology. Erickson’s committee is scheduled to hear two alternative licensing bills on Thursday.

  • krj

    This is purely a guess, but I wonder if this rhetoric is because people are trying to find stronger language to get their point across.

    One possible reason that people are attempting to use stronger language is the constant one-upmanship that happens in life, but is taken to the extreme with the internet’s stories.

    I look at it like this, if you posted a story about a guy that fell off his roof and lived. You would quickly be referenced to stories of the guy who fell 7 stories onto trash in New York and lived. That will be one-upped by someone falling out a 12 story building and living. And eventually you will get to a story about someone falling 30,000 feet out of an airplane and living. When the first act of someone falling off their roof an living is actually a pretty big deal.

  • Bob Collins

    Interesting observation, krj. It seems to me that the overuse of Nazi references in the last few years has pretty much taken a great deal of their impact away.

  • John P.

    You’re right on Bob.

    Every time I hear a Nazi referece lately, I roll my eyes. It automatically flags the speaker as unimaginative and prone to exageration.

    I’m looking at you, Glen Beck.

  • http://www.oldtokyo.com noodleman

    Addressing krj’s thought and your response, Bob, I wonder if words like “Gestapo” have now entered into the lexicon as clichés? Where the words become an almost automatic reflex; said without thinking? (Similar to the way “racist” is sometimes used in non-racial situations.)

    As for “not thinking” through the rhetoric, my eyes still roll whenever I read or hear someone exclaim that Obama (or any “librul” [sic]) is not only a socialist or communist but is also a fascist. I do think people use words they don’t fully comprehend, and maybe that’s part of the reason why we’ve been hearing so many Nazi references.

  • Joanna

    I’m appalled that this person heads up the House Education Reform Committee. Casting “dispersions,” indeed!

  • Jim Shapiro

    I’m not clear as to what the real issue is here. Did the JDL complain? Or The Union of Once Really Mean But Now Really Old And Mostly Harmless Former Gestapo Agents? Or perhaps it was the Association of Ever Vigilant Frequently Constipated Former High School Hall Monitors Politically Correct Language Stasi? ( Oops. Now I’m REALLY in trouble :-)

  • Arthur Dickson

    So we have an illiterate who is also ignorant of history and ethics chairing the House Education Reform Committee. We have reason to fear the right.

  • John O.

    Jim, the issue is framed pretty well by krj above.

    At a very personal level, I find no humor whatsoever in trying to infer a connection between some of the most notorious secret police operations of the 20th century and a proposed policy relating to licensing educators.

    I had an uncle who survived Auschwitz by caring for the Commandant’s animals. A native of Poland, he was part of the “intellectual class” that was rounded up by the Nazis. My father met him when they were roommates at UW-Madison in the early 1950′s, met my dad’s sister and got married. He would go on to become a Professor of Veterinary Medicine at UW-Madison until his death in 1970.

  • Heather

    At least she had the decency to apologize.

  • Jim Shapiro

    John – Sorry. I too lost relatives in the camp. Thanks for the powerful story.

    While I was attempting to be humorous to make light of an absurd situation, I don’t think that the assemblywoman was. She was being ignorant.

    That said, I do think that while words can evoke extremely powerful feelings, as thinking human being we are better served by viewing them in context.

  • John O.

    Jim, no worries.