[Update: The Hamilton County Democratic Party executive committee wisely voted against censuring Ben Lindy. Apparently Lindy was asked, “Why did the story end up in the Washington Post?” That’s easy: the best way to ‘go viral’ is to do something really stupid.]
Ben Lindy is the kind of person we all hope goes into politics: he grew up in Cincinnati, went straight from Cincinnati public school to Yale, then taught through Teach for America, then worked in the DC Public Schools system, then went to Yale Law, and then returned to Ohio to establish Teach for America’s office in Cincinnati. Now he’s running for state representative back in his hometown.
I met Ben Lindy during our first week at Yale. He’s the nicest and most trustworthy person I know. If you meet him, he’ll be the nicest and most trustworthy person you know. It doesn’t surprise me that, though an “upstart” candidate who wasn’t backed by the party, he’s now surging into the lead for the 31st District of Ohio. He’s a great guy who has committed himself to education, which I shouldn’t have to tell you is the first step in building a better world for our children. If our state capitols were filled with people like Ben, we’d have balanced budgets, flying cars, and kindergartners doing calculus (or as close to these things as we can get).
But now there’s a “controversy” surrounding him. It seems the Hamilton County Democratic Party establishment favors someone else — why would they do that is a good question that needs to be asked — and so they dug deep into Ben’s past to find the absolute worst thing about him they could find, a skeleton in his closet to knock him out of the race.
Here’s what they found: in 2011, he published empirical research about public schools in the Yale Law Journal, one of the most prestigious law reviews in America. The article has since been cited by nearly three dozen other legal, sociological, and education policy journals, and it recently showed up in a brief the Governor of New Mexico filed with the United States Supreme Court.
I know, that’s the most boring “skeleton” you’ve ever heard of. In fact, it’s not a “skeleton” at all — it’s a major accomplishment. Most law review articles are useless blather published just to amuse some professor or to put a feather in a law student’s cap. In the same year that Ben published his article, Chief Justice John Roberts complained that law review articles are usually filled with irrelevant nonsense like “the influence of Immanuel Kant on evidentiary approaches in 18th-century Bulgaria.” Ben’s article wasn’t one of those. Instead, he used empirical research to shed light on an important and hotly-disputed issue: “The Impact of Teacher Collective Bargaining Laws on Student Achievement.”
Based upon robust statistical analysis, citations to dozens of other papers, and interviews with the teachers and consultants involved in New Mexico’s own experiment with collective bargaining, Ben found that “mandatory collective bargaining laws in the public school context lead to an increase in SAT scores and a decrease in graduation rates.” As he described, this is a “troubling trade-off.” For all of Ben’s hard work in getting to the real facts about education, Ben’s now being criticized for being “anti-union.”
Let’s stop for a second. I believe in collective bargaining for public school teachers. So does Ben Lindy; he said it again in an email blast yesterday: “I support the rights of people to bargain collectively (including teachers).” Indeed, at the time it was published, the conservative New York Post criticized Ben’s article as being too favorable towards collective bargaining rights: “If collective bargaining ultimately delivers a superior product — higher-achieving students — Lindy’s study (cited warmly in The Boston Globe and elsewhere) may be a blockbuster with broad implications.”
The “controversy” here has nothing to do with political views. It has to do with whether we think politicians should make decisions by blindly agreeing with lobbyists or if politicians should make decisions by thinking about and understanding actual facts.
It would be nice if the real world always lined up with our preferences and our beliefs, but facts are stubborn things. If we as a society want to have a functioning educational system, we need to have the facts about that system, and we need to have political representatives who understand those facts and can use those facts to make the system better.
In a sane world, Ben’s article would be proof that he’s just the person for the job: he devoted himself to education for years and did exhaustive, painstaking work to see how education policy works in the real world. In the Hamilton County Democratic Party, however, it’s grounds for them to attempt to “censure” him by denying him the privileges given to every other candidate: access to the party’s voter files, mailing lists, and postage discounts.
It goes without saying that, if the Hamilton County Democratic Party censures Ben Lindy for publishing a thorough, methodologically-sound empirical research article in the Yale Law Journal, they will reveal themselves to be a bunch of anti-intellectuals who would rather curry favor to special interests than do their job in representing the people.
Non-Disclaimer: These opinions are mine alone. I lost touch with Ben after college and I didn’t discuss this with him or his campaign. I saw the story in the news and, seeing how it related to a law review article, wrote a blog post about it.