Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Horlick Students Used for Liberal Political Causes

Yesterday was election day. And if you are a Horlick student involved in liberal activist clubs, its time to leave school and get liberals out to vote. Of course, administrators at Horlick would not describe their activities as partisan political activity. They would describe this as non-partisan education on the political process. The claim in the past is that students are merely urging voters to the polls, not advocating for candidates or causes. Sounds like non-partisan activity, right? It might be except the canvassing is performed in the ten wards with the lowest voter turnout. And these areas of low voter turnout have higher concentrations of voters who would vote Democratic. Therefore, to the extent that these students are successful, they are increasing the odds for Democratic candidates. Or, to be more blunt, they are engaging in partisan political activity, with the active support of public school personel, when they should be in school. Now, if they actually were attempting a non-partisan education field trip, they would choose their canvassing areas randomly throughout the RUSD boundaries. But they won't do that unless they are forced to do so. Perhaps a school board member should make an issue of this. Or perhaps I will.


Ryan Knudson said...

I'm one of the organizers of the get-out-the-vote. This activity was 100% limited to after school hours. The thrust was neither liberal nor conservative. The message was simply, "vote." We went to low turnout wards because that is where turnout is low. Why waste time and energy in wards where everybody already votes? Really, Denis, you're making a big deal out of nothing here.

Wade said...

I am curious as to what percent is considered low turn out and where this information came from. Also, what is the teaching point of this get-out-the-vote exercise. What were these students suppose to learn and how do you measure if they learned it. Thank you for participating in this blog.

Ryan Knudson said...

The information is compiled from readily available voter turnout statistics. Wards were chosen based on turnout and geography. There isn't just one teaching point. The goal is for students to participate in a service learning project that allows them to take an active role in the civic life of their community, even though only a handful of students are old enough to vote themselves. A powerful measure would be increased turnout among student participants in future elections. I would imagine that any young person who goes door to door encouraging his or her neighbors to vote would be more likely to vote him or herself in the future. Of course, students also get hands-on experience with an election, an intimate understanding of how the city is organized, leadership skills, communication skills, media skills (those who talked to reporters), and, hopefully, an awareness of the sacrifices required of all of us if this great democratic experiment is to work.

eric said...

Ryan, I do like the idea of getting the students involved in the process. I do wonder though, after reading yours and Denis' inputs, I am left to conclude Racine 'democratic wards' usually have lower voter turnout. Why is that do you think? Has that question been discussed with the students?

Denis Navratil said...

Ryan, thank you for joining the discussion. I have been gone a few days so I have not had a chance to respond earlier. I am glad to hear that students did not leave school for the get-out-the-vote effort. That is a change from previous efforts, is it not? Now on to the meat of the matter, ie those low turnout wards. Any astute political observer in Racine, and I most definitely include you in that category, is well aware that Racine's low voter areas vote very Democratic. Certainly your sponsor, Voces of the Frontier (pardon my Spanish) is aware of the fact. And they certainly have an agenda which would be helped by increased voter turnout among Democrats. But you apparently maintain that groups like Voces as well as student groups like Students United for the Struggle, Friens of Gays and Lesbians, Horlick Peace ??? are merely wishing to increase voter turnout without any preference as to how they may vote. "Why waste time and energy in wards where everybody already votes?" you ask. There are no such areas. Voter turnout efforts could be undertaken anywhere in the RUSD area and produce the same "educational" results. Frankly, it strains credulity to believe that Voces would sponsor this effort if it did not dovetail with their own leftist agenda. If nothing else, there is an appearance of activism that could easily be remedied by having an independent party (I don't mean political party) oversee a process wherin your get-out-the-vote efforts are detirmined randomly. Please let me know how such a change would harm the educational mission for the children. Thanks.

ryan knudson said...

Only one GOTV occurred during the school day. All others have been outside of school hours. The student participants were mostly African-American and Latino, so they had more interest in turning out the vote in those communities, which happen to have the lowest turnout. If this gives the advantage to one political party over another, so be it. African-American and Latino voters vote their own interests, just like everybody else. Voces de la Frontera, similarly, wishes to see increased Latino turnout. Does this help their agenda (which is far from leftist, by the way, as even President Bush supports most of what Voces does when it comes to immigration reform)? Well, it probably does, since, again, Latino people will vote in their own best interest.

ryan knudson said...

Sorry; I didn't address this in my previous post:

"Please let me know how such a change would harm the educational mission for the children."

Part of the mission is for the young people to take an active role in their communities. They want to be visible as potential future (and current) leaders in their communities and to function as sort of a community conscience when it comes to civic participation. Sending them out into other communities wouldn't achieve these things.

Denis Navratil said...

OK, now we are getting somewhere. The low voter turn out areas are largely black or Hispanic, so your black and Hispanic students are trying to increase voter turn-out in "their" communities, where "they want to be visible as potential future (and current) leaders in their communities and to function as sort of a community conscience when it comes to civic participation." Therefor it makes no sense to send " them out into other communities." Not only do you have an agenda, but a racist one at that. Why must you teach black and Hispanic students about "their" community and "other" communities? Don't we all live in the Racine area? Aren't we all Wisconsinites? Aren't we Americans, excepting, of course the illegals in your group? Certainly you would be appalled, I would hope, if a school sponsored all white group took to the streets to fight for "white" issues and to increase the "white" vote. Your efforts to divide our community into racial and ethnic enclaves is harmful to all of us, especially the children. Instead of teaching them to be leaders of blacks or leaders of Hispanics, why not just teach them to be leaders? You could start by suggesting that they stop following you. I apologize for my increasingly angry tone, but I am disgusted by your racism, as it hurts all of us, especially the minorities taught to see whites as the "other" community. I would love to address your brainwashed students to offer them an alternative to the hatred that you teach. Now that would be a learning experience.

ryan knudson said...

Okay, Denis, I could be offended by your insults, but I'll try not to be. What's clear is that your agenda is the only valid one here. If dialogue is what you wanted, it seems that I'm the one communicating in good faith. Doesn't it take two? Rather than address the points of my argument, you chose to call me racist.

You should know better than that.

eric said...

Ryan, if the Prairie School staff supervised a get out the vote campaign in Republican areas only, provided rides to the polls, etc; how would you view that effort? Given average turnout was considered high at around 70%, that leaves another 30% of the electorate still to vote, and motivating 30% from any area would be considered worthwhile.
Ryan, we don't know each other, but I accept at face value your explanations. But here's where a reasonable person has a problem with the Horlick activity as you described, from a very large public school, "The student participants were mostly African-American and Latino, so they had more interest in turning out the vote in those communities, which happen to have the lowest turnout." A reasonable person will find this at best suspicious, and at worst a deliberate effort to support a particular party. If that's the case, then come out and say so. If not, then at least recognise how it appears that way to reasonable people, but state supporting a particular party was not your intent. Such statements should clear the air.

ryan said...

Eric, supporting a particular party was not our intent.

My participation here is pointless. It's clear that I'm not going to convince you, and you're certainly not going to change my mind about what our intent was. Further discussion is a waste of time.

Denis Navratil said...

Ryan, if there is a point of yours that I did not address, please let me know. I don't wish to chase you away from this discussion, but I believe that your apparent endorsement of "ours" and "theirs" communities is racist. This becomes apparent when you envision a white group promoting "white" issues while courting white voters. Wouldn't that be considered racist? I did not intend to insult you, but rather to accurately describe the situation.

You write: "What's clear is that your agenda is the only valid one here." Well, perhaps, but we are discussing the different agendas. Please let me know how dividing our youth into "ours" and "theirs" communities is helping them. It seems to me that it would foster the divisions in society rather than promote harmony between races. I believe that your agenda is harmful, but I would like to hear a proper defense of it if you are able to offer one. If you can't, perhaps it is time to reconsider your multiculturist agenda.

ryan said...


To address your most recent post:

1. Nobody is dividing youth into "ours" and "theirs" communities. They are already divided, and have been for decades. We would love to see unity between diverse populations in our society, but that won't happen when there is inequality and an imbalance of power. I'm sure we can agree that in a democracy, power begins at the voting booth.

2. We are working toward unity, and evidence of progress can be seen in a GOTV effort that includes kids from all races who agree on the goal. I think it's quite remarkable that we had mostly Latino and African-American kids, joined by more than a handful of white kids, all work together toward a shared vision. Unity between diverse students is a major goal every time we do this, and we're very pleased to see friendships develop between kids who wouldn't have met otherwise, because the communities are already so divided.

I don't mind answering questions and clearing up misconceptions here, but in the end, I imagine we'll have to agree to disagree.

Denis Navratil said...

Ryan writes: " Nobody is dividing youth into "ours" and "theirs" communities." But of course you are. Your GOTV groups are based on race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation. If that is not creating, endorsing, and supporting divisions, then I don't know what is.

"They are already divided, and have been for decades." True enough, but your groups, by definition, are emphasizing differences rather than similarities. This reinforces the divisions you claim to disdain.

"We would love to see unity between diverse populations in our society, but that won't happen when there is inequality and an imbalance of power." Again this statement reflects your preference for divisions. This is the typically leftist class warfare rhetoric. By pointing out the inequality, you stir up unhealthy levels of envy, which pits groups against one another. This does nothing for the envious other than provide excuses for failure. And with regards to ending inequality and an imbalance of power, I wish you could point to one success in that regard. Typically, the leftist attempts to address inequality require a political imbalance of power to achieve their goals. Think Soviet Union. Millions died in the attempt to "equalize" society. But was political power equalized? No, it was a dictatorship, which creates far more political inequality than our political system does.

Regarding point #2. Having some white students support your divisive agenda is not convincing evidence that your idea is a good one. It simply suggests that you have been effective in indoctrinating your students.

I think you may be right that we will likely have to agree to disagree. But I think your students would be more informed if they were exposed to the perspective that I have offered during this exchange. Certainly exposure to a diverse range of ideas is healthy for students, don't you think. I would love an opportunity to meet with your student groups. How about it?

eric said...

Ryan, you've labeled what I'm about to write "a waste of time". Seems a bit combative and presumptive, but I've got time tonight and tend to believe in people's better natures. When you wrote your intent was not to support a particular political party, I believed you – that’s what I wanted to know. You seem unwilling to even consider that Horlick's get-out-the-vote activity, which had genuinely great civic and educational motivations, could be construed to be one-sided politically. Possessing an education degree myself from UW-Madison and trying to raise a couple school-age kids, I do try to pay attention to education activities. I think a get-out-the-vote activity was a great idea! The reality is your activity was a good lesson for your students and hopefully increased voter turnout, but another aspect of that reality is that your activity targeted only a focused segment of the electorate and since you seem offended to even consider that you may have crossed an inappropriate line, you should consider what that tells you about yourself. The general public doesn't expect money donated to charity to be used for political use (it's illegal), they don't buy tickets to concerts to hear entertainers preach politics, and they don't pay property taxes expecting public schools will engage in partisan political activities. You did some good things with your lesson, but you also violated a public trust. You continue down that road and it won't be a nice guy on a blog pointing it out. It will be more serious people who are capable of correcting impropriety. And why, because instead of spreading your get-out-the-vote activity across multiple diverse wards, you put the blinders on, and acted arrogantly and closed minded when a couple tax payers and parents pointed out a problem in the design of your lesson. I'm old enough to know that I make mistakes all the time. Even when you get it 85% right, that 15% can be significant. You may tell yourself you don’t care what I’m telling you, but your task was to get those kids motivated and educated without violating the public’s trust for non-partisanship. You and I both have better natures than we’re displaying here, and with a tweak to your “lesson plan” you could have a real winner. It’s not a waste of time.

ryan said...


1. I wasn't offended that some might have misconstrued this as political. I was offended at being called racist.

2. The taxpayers paid nothing for this activity. It was funded 100% by outside groups, and it took place 100% outside of school time.


I could invite you into my classroom and have you tell my students that their teacher is a liar, a racist, and that their activities will lead to Stalinesque terror. Thanks but no thanks.

Denis Navratil said...

If your activities are not racist, why not start up a white power group, pushing white issues and seeking out white voters? It is not an insult to describe racist actions and/or attitudes as racist. It is merely accurate. Now, of course, I would love to know why you consider your actions/attitude as non racist. The forum is here. Type away. I have asked you several times and I will ask again. Why are you not offering a "white power" club for your white students?

And of course I am not surprised that you would wish to keep me away from your students. Since your purpose is to foster racial strife, class warfare etc..., any exposure to contrary points of view would undermine your agenda. But your job is to educate students. Instead you seek to indoctrinate them. So we have come full circle and I will remind you of the title of my initial blog entry: Horlick Students Used for Liberal Political Causes. Still seems true to me.

The offer still stands to introduce a reasonable alternative for your students to consider. Why not let them be the judge of good and bad ideas, fair criticism or personal attacks? Aren't those the kind of skills an educated person should have?

Denis Navratil said...

Also Ryan, you have yet to share with me the countries or communities that have achieved equality. If nothing else, please provide that info for me if you would. Thanks.

ryan said...

I don't know of any, Denis.

But why not try?

eric said...


1. I don't understand why you won't acknowledge this activity yielded a partisan effect? Intent was to teach and get the kids involved; achieved! But when you narrowly targeted a certain portion of the electorate, you produced an "unintended" partisan effect. If there was no involvement of public school resources, then individuals have the right, and some would say the duty, to pursue what they believe is right through the democratic process. But since you seem to hold firm that there was no partisan political effect, then I have to wonder:

2. Despite being after school and using non-school funds, was this a Horlick student club, does the club meet at school sometimes, and were Horlick staff involved as supervisors? If yes, then you're walking a similar thin line that religious clubs in public schools try to walk.

Why am I still scrutinizing instead of just praising? Your unwillingness to recognise the activity clearly had a partisan effect, makes a reasonable guy wonder why? What's up with that?

ryan said...


I don't know that this activity had a partisan effect. Maybe it did; maybe it didn't. Regardless, a partisan effect wasn't our goal. Increased turnout in low turnout wards was our goal. We didn't narrowly target a certain portion of the electorate; we targeted low turnout wards and knocked on every door in them without regard to how the resident might or might not vote (with the exception of apartment buildings, upstairs duplexes, etc, which were omitted for safety reasons).

To address your second set of questions, yes, this involved Horlick clubs. Yes, some Horlick faculty donated their time to chaperone.

I am not looking for your praise. I already feel good about what the students did. And I won't recognize that "the activity clearly had a partisan effect" because the effect isn't clear, except in the sense that one party always wins over another, and this is, by definition, partisan. And I'm not trying to be cute or disingenuous. I have no idea how many people we turned out who wouldn't have otherwise voted. Nor do I know how these folks voted if we did turn them out. We don't ask those questions and we don't track that data.

I see nothing wrong with helping students go through their own neighborhoods getting out the vote. These are the kids we work with and these are the neighborhoods they live in. They're proud of what they did, their parents are proud of them, and I'm proud of them too.

I mean no offense when I say this, but your praise or scrutiny, whichever you give us, means little compared to how our students and their families feel about this.

eric said...

Ryan, you're righteous. But when you say, "We didn't narrowly target a certain portion of the electorate; we targeted low turnout wards", and go on, "Nor do I know how these folks voted if we did turn them out." A fairly reasonable person, me, using my Horlick HS education and reading our local newspaper, has a high degree of certitude that the low turnout wards repeatedly vote for one party - since you seem like a very articulate, caring, and bright person, I tend to think you knew that too. I think the praise/scrutiny factor goes to whether you violated the public trust by utilizing a narrow group of the student body to focus on a narrow group of the electorate - that is a partisan activity. To be clear, no one is questioning the students who were involved. They did a good thing and should be proud of themselves. I do understand they would be far more motivated to work in their own neighborhoods. But, I turn back to some of Denis' arguments, why is a public school using only a narrow portion of the student body to focus on only a narrow portion of the electorate? In a school the size of Horlick, why not use a larger diverser group of students to canvass a larger area since as it turns out voter turnout tends to be below 50% everywhere? You may only care about the kids, but its the adults who appear to have designed a partisan activity. Well, we're 'beating a dead horse'. I wish you well and hope you expand your get-out-the-vote activity to include all neighborhoods that Horlick HS serves. Will I be seeing some "rebels" at my door before the next election?

Denis Navratil said...

To Ryan. Though you acknowledge that the equality you seek has never been achieved, you nonetheless ask "But why not try?" I would think the answer would be self evident, but apparently not. History has demonstrated, quite convincingly, what has happened in places where equality was attempted. Marxism represents the purest attempt to achieve equality. Has it worked or has it brought untold misery and suffering to millions? Do the facts of history mean anything to you Ryan? Why would you pursue an ideology that has repeatedly failed and left millions dead? I am sure that you are a kind and decent person Ryan, but your philosophy is quite dangerous.

Anonymous said...

In 2004, the majority of students involved in this effort, which took place during school time, were not minority students. Horlick serves a very diverse area, which includes both majority Democratic as well as majority Republican wards. However, the Horlick Get Out The Vote effort was limited to Democratic wards.

Ryan is simply being disingenuous when he claims to have no partisan agenda. It is entirely inappropriate for this effort to be organized in a public school, using taxpayer funded resources, and the taxpayer funded position which Mr. Knudson has been provided.