A student requests that I remove my comments on his teacher, Frank Wanner

In a message dated 10/26/00 L _ _ _ _  writes: (I have made some modest changes to this email)

As a senior at Duluth Central High School I would like to say that Frank Wanner is one of the most interesting teachers I know. I do not appreciate your criticism of him. This type of behavior goes back to junior 
high. No one will think less of him and do you really think that anyone would care about it at all? There have been many class discussions of your problem with Mr. Wanner. Please keep it to yourself. Really now, would you like for people to make websites on stupid things you've said? Some people just don't get along and that's fine. ... You... have have an important role in this city. Set a good example.... Please show some maturity. I'm 
not being mean or anything, so don't go making pages on your site about me. I am just giving you advice... thank you

My Reply to L_ _ _ _


Dear L_ _ _ _

Thank you for your very respectful and thoughtful note.

I know that Mr. Wanner is a bright and engaging man. I am not surprised that you enjoy his class. Prior to our feud he invited me into his classroom and we both talked about the state of the school district. I enjoyed that and wouldn't mind returning to visit someday.

Mr. Wanner and I have known each other for many years. Twenty years ago I used to substitute in his classroom and when I lost my job as a teacher in 1987 he offered to help me if he could. You have suggested that our current conduct towards one another has not been very dignified. I agree.

My position as a school board member and Mr. Wanner's as the president of the teacher's union places us in an adversarial role over the questions of teacher contracts and the resources of the school district. A few year's ago our responsibilities put us in conflict and recovering from that conflict has taken time. I have not been privy to your discussions, in Mr. Wanner's classroom, about the two of us. Perhaps they were prompted by my reprinting his essays in the teacher's union newsletter. Of course, Mr. Wanner has always been free to talk about the School Board in his classroom. He did so long before I put up a web site and challenged his point of view. 

Before I posted my web page my daughter came home from a date with one of Mr. Wanner's students. Like you my daughter's date was a student who obviously enjoyed Mr. Wanner's lively teaching style. He joked to my daughter that "My teacher has a ticking package for your father." My daughter didn't enjoy the joke.

Back when I was a teacher I discovered that our teachers had very little idea what the school board was doing. They depended on the teacher's newsletter to find out what was going on and that meant paying close attention to what Mr. Wanner wrote.

When I was elected I intended to bring a teacher's point of view to my work as a school board member. I quickly concluded that much of the information Mr. Wanner shared with teachers was biased and encouraged teachers to be suspicious of the School Board. The strike we barely avoided three years ago was partly a product of that suspicion.

I once received 300 angry letters from teachers. I wrote back to all of the teachers but it was a very expensive and time consuming way to explain my position. When I set up my web page it suddenly became possible for me to explain the workings of the school board easily and inexpensively.

One of my hopes was to draw attention to the newsletters which incited such anger in our teaching staff. I thought that this would help explain to anyone reading my web page why our district had so many discontented teachers. I also took the opportunity to rebut some of the things which were in those newsletters. Since I put my web page up I have noticed that the newsletters have been much less critical of the school board and administration. Perhaps, knowing that they will reach a much wider audience, and not just teachers, has resulted in a tempering of their content and tone. That is what I hoped for.

Last May, six months after the last critical newsletter, I called up Mr. Wanner and suggested that it was time for us to end our "estrangement." Mr. Wanner was delighted with the suggestion and we had coffee at the union headquarters. I do like Frank Wanner. He has a tough job and he's a tough adversary but he's bright, idealistic and witty to boot. He later he called me and we had coffee again. Our relationship seems to be on the mend and I think this is a good thing for our district.

Should I keep the newsletters and other old items on the Internet? This is a tough question. I am inclined to keep my web page as it is because I am a public official and I want my public to understand what I face. My web page gives me a chance to present my point of view and justify my actions. I think I am a reasonable person and I want voters to see me this way too.

It is true that Mr. Wanner and I looked a little foolish. So do Al Gore and George Bush. So do most people when they are locked in serious conflict. This makes it tempting to remove references to the past from my web page but I am reluctant to do this because I am a historian. Removing references to our conflict would be like taking embarrassing chapters about American History out of a text book. It might be nice to think that we did not take America from another people, or import slaves in inhuman conditions, but turning our backs on the truth gives birth to a lie.

Despite my past criticism of Mr. Wanner I have pointed out his positive attributes as a teacher and leader. I have explained in my web page that my relationship with Mr. Wanner has taken a turn for the better. While I'm not ready to remove anything from my web page I will soon make sure that anyone who finds my webpage sees that Mr. Wanner and I have turned over a new leaf. To do that I have decided to include a portion of our email correspondence. I certainly will not make fun of you because your devotion to Mr. Wanner is honorable, compassionate and mature. He is lucky to have you in his class.

Thank you for your correspondence,


Harry Welty