“Fake News Brought Me a Barrage of Hate” – Garn Press Applauds Steve Nelson for his Cool Response to the Maelstrom Caused by New York Post

This is a cautionary tale of how newspapers of the New York Post’s ilk catch educators, to quote Steve Nelson, in the “crosshairs of a faux media frenzy”.

Steve Nelson is the Head of Calhoun School, a progressive private school in New York City. Calhoun is distinguished by the diversity of the students and by the social justice community outreach in which all the students in the school participate.  But Steve’s mission stretches way beyond the perimeters of the school on the Upper West Side and the Bronx where students often engage with public school students in shared projects and activities. He is an unabashed advocate for progressive education for all children and especially children in public schools. Steve begins with the premise “first do no harm” – a principle that many policy makers should consider adopting. To encourage them to do so Steve has written a book, published by Garn Press which is entitled: First Do No Harm: Progressive Education in a Time of Existential Risk.

Fake News Brought Me a Barrage of Hate

Originally Published on Valley News | February 18, 2017 | Steve Nelson

By Steve Nelson

On Jan. 25, Sen. Bernie Sanders announced the winners of his annual State of the Union essay contest for Vermont high school students. My granddaughter, Quinn Nelson Mayo, won first prize with an essay proposing media literacy education in all public schools. I’m a proud grandparent, of course, but little did I know how prescient she was. Two weeks later I found myself in the crosshairs of a faux media frenzy. It has been a harrowing and revealing experience. I do not recommend it.

Several weeks ago my Valley News column was an excerpt from a letter I sent to my school community. In that letter I suggested that the current political environment was more troubling than at any time in my life, including Watergate, civil rights unrest and post-9/11. I went on to urge civility, to work to protect the environment and our freedoms, and to focus on participation in government.

The New York Post published an article titled, “Principal Says Trump Presidency Is ‘More Troubling’ Than 9/11. My article did not include “Trump,” “president” or “presidency.” Shortly thereafter I began to receive angry messages: hateful email as well as threatening phone calls and obscene posts on my school’s website and Facebook page.

Fox News picked up the story verbatim without any effort to confirm the assertions. I was on the home page of the Fox News website with a picture taken, apparently, from our website. The story was then picked up by an unknown number of conservative or far-right bloggers and websites, once again with no attempt to verify or clarify. We were off to the ugly races.

“You should be veeeeeeeeerrrrrrry careful … traitors like you are the reason we are going to fight FIRE with FIRE! Stop dividing and pushing your unintelligent agenda on children … this is not over!!”

“You might be the worst person to walk the earth. If there is someone worse than you we can’t find them and we have looked. It must suck getting up everyday and knowing your married to the nanny state. … Luckily for America you have entered your twilight years and the grim reaper is coming … May poor health follow you the rest of your short life.”

“As far as a rifle barrel, only one thing goes in it, and it sure … isn’t a flower. I’m hoping liberal brats try rioting and kicking in windows in my city, we’ll give them high speed lead poisoning. Maybe we need a civil war, we can exterminate the Libtards and reclaim our once great country. It would only take about two days since the Muslim Loving Baby Killer Democrats don’t like guns.”

There have been several hundred messages, many profane and more threatening than these examples. It is not knowable how much of this angry sentiment fueled Trump’s election, but it was not — is not — an insignificant factor. Irresponsible sources like the New York Post and Fox News have no shame. There is no “liberal” equivalent. Scores of millions of Americans are being stirred to violent anger by this gratuitous, dishonest media.

But not all were fooled.

The silver lining in this dark cloud was gratifying. In addition to an outpouring of support from my own community and from schools around the country, I had remarkable exchanges with 40 or 50 Trump supporters. I responded to every hateful email with a respectful message. I included my actual letter, and here is a sampling of responses I received.

One originally furious man posted this on his Linkedin account: “I feel compelled and responsible to share this information with you all. I sent Mr. Steve Nelson an email detailing my disgust. He replied with more civility and professionalism than I afforded him, as well as a full transcript of what he sent the parents of his students. Suffice it to say that I owed him an apology, and I gave him one. Lesson learned … don’t believe everything you read, much is taken out of context for the purpose of an agenda. I am a retired Navy Mustang, conservative, independent and a thinking individual. But today I failed myself and fell for the divisive bait. Don’t repeat my mistake.”

“You’re correct in that I don’t agree with your thoughts. However, I see how you were totally misrepresented. Please accept my sincere apology. Looks like you have a valid lawasuit to file if you choose to do so.”

“Wow, totally unexpected. my apologies. Very well written and thoughtful.”

“Thank you for the response! It was unexpected and truly appreciated. I am deeply moved. After reading your message I believe we have a perfect example of the importance of respectful dialogue. Not only do I see things in a different light but I can honestly say that I agree with so much of what you so eloquently wrote that I plan to revisit my thoughts on the only point of contention I have. I personally have not been viewing the immigration ban as being a race/religion driven program. Out of respect for your moving message and my agreement with most every word I think it makes sense to make sure I am more informed on the issue.”

These messages restored my faith in civil dialogue. We Americans can agree to disagree, but our republic is in deep trouble if we don’t have a common understanding of truth.

My granddaughter is wise beyond her years. Children must learn from an early age to carefully consider sources of information and their motivations.

Steve Nelson
February 18, 2017

First Do No Harm: Progressive Education in a Time of Existential Risk

First Do No Harm: Progressive Education in a Time of Existential Risk develops a comprehensive argument for the importance of progressive education in light of the world’s increasingly severe challenges. Current educational practices, particularly in the United States, instill conformity and compliance at a time when authority must be challenged, skepticism must thrive and our students must be imaginative, creative, empathic and passionately alive.

The book traces the origins of progressive education and cites the rich history and inarguable science behind progressive practices. Nelson argues that a traditional or conventional approach to education has dominated as a matter of political expediency, not good practice. The book provides an unsparing critique of current policy and practice, particularly the excesses of contemporary education reform.

Using anecdotes from his many years as an educational leader, he makes the case in an engaging, colorful and accessible style. In the final chapter, Nelson offers a Bill of Educational Rights, hoping teachers, parents and all citizens will demand a more joyful, constructive and loving education for the children in their care.

Author: Steve Nelson
Garn Press (264 pp.)
$24.95 hardcover, $17.95 paperback, $9.99 e-book
ISBN: 978-1-942146-48-3
Paperback & Hardcover: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound (local bookstore)
eBook: Amazon – Ebook $2.99 on Amazon when you purchase the print book – Amazon’s Kindle Matchbook Program

Book Reviews

“This is ultimately a hopeful book.  Steve spells out a vision of real education reform that we just might be ready for now. His Bill of Educational Rights, based on the best of what is known from science and theory about human development and children’s learning, should be our manifesto. All children deserve a progressive education, not just the privileged few. All children deserve an education that will enliven their lives with joy and possibility and help them contribute to the betterment of society and our planet.” – Matt Damon, Actor, Writer, Producer

“This optimistic, anecdotal book offers useful ideas for changes in education.” – KIRKUS REVIEWS

“Parents, teachers and those who support better educational opportunities for all of our children should start 2017 by reading Steve Nelson’s First Do No Harm, Progressive Education in a Time of Existential Risk. At the same time, the book should be a mandatory read for our elected and appointed officials, whose understanding of the benefits of true public education is needed now, more than ever. If they truly understand where we are, where we are headed and the alternative approach that would serve our country and its children, they would use First Do No Harm as a guidebook for their policy actions.” –  Jonathan Pelto

“Steve Nelson knows full well that freedom begins between the ears.  He negotiates this space with clarity, charm and precision.  Ultimately he shows the reader how a good education is the mirror image of a proper democracy.  For too long our systems of education have shrink-wrapped our imaginations.  Nelson successfully argues for a new way of thinking.” – Colum McCann, Author of Let the World Spin and National Book Award winner

“Nelson’s thesis: To nurture all children – rich or poor – to develop an intrinsic desire to learn life-long. His is an educational bill of rights I wish we could implement tomorrow. Written in direct, jargon-free style, and using his vast educational experience, Nelson makes a compelling case that much of current educational reform is wrong-headed, focusing as it does on ‘compliance and conformity.’ Until we encourage ‘skepticism and originality’ – gained via progressive education – students will not fulfil their ‘limitless potential.’ A great, thought-provoking read.” – Roberta Michnick Golinkoff, Ph.D., Unidel H. Rodney Sharp Professor, University of Delaware, Co-author with Kathy Hirsh-Pasek of Becoming Brilliant: What Science Tells us About Raising Successful Children

“Nelson combines experience, knowledge, wisdom and brilliant writing as he invites us into school the way it should be. Using progressive education as his platform, he demonstrates how education can nurture engaged and motivated children who actively discover their world and grow up to be good citizens. Sound like a pipe dream? Read on. This book is for parents and educators who know that schools can and must do better.” – Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology, Temple University

“This powerful, entertaining book is both a beautifully-expressed explanation of progressive education and a searing indictment of contemporary education policy and practice. As an teacher, I appreciate the inspirational, good-humored tour of contemporary research and theory. As a parent and an activist, I appreciate the Bill of Education Rights, outlining what we should expect from our schools. As a citizen, I appreciate the clear vision for what education can be — humane, equitable, meaningful and joyful.” Amazon Review, Amazon.


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