Judging (in)competence

Within ethics and value theory we find good discussions about utility, maximization of good and minimization of harm. In John Stuart Mill’s utilitarian philosophy, specifically, Mill argues that only a person who has experienced two alternate conditions is qualified to judge one preferable over the other, often called the ‘Doctrine of Competent Judges.’

To 21st century men and women (accustomed as we are to humanistic ethics a few hundred years post-Enlightenment) this reads a bit like archaic truism. Of course we would agree that only a person who has driven both a Camry and a Prius is truly ‘competent’ to judge one superior over the other. This is not to say, of course, that every ‘competent judge’ will have the same preferences or reach the same conclusions, but they importantly have direct knowledge of that which they’re judging.

And so it is with many other opinions we express and judgements we make each day. If we have direct experience with two alternate states of being, we’re at least minimally qualified to judge one over another. Notably, this doesn’t prevent people from expressing unqualified opinions or taking a position on things they have no direct experience with.

For example, LASD public schools. 

There are people in our community who write extensively and critically of the value of LASD despite never having been a member of the LASD community. David Roode, one of the most avid and prolific of the anti-LASD crusaders, spreads byzantine arguments against the district’s leadership, policies, finances and more. Roode is a newish but staunch member of that noisy 10% anti-district subgroup that harasses LASD from every conceivable angle. He clutters online comment threads and forums with aspersions cast by his multiple pseudonyms.

  • Roode is founding Vice President of the now widely discredited group Each Student Counts that accuses standout, award-winning LASD of failed leadership, fiscal irresponsibility and lack of transparency.
  • Roode claims, despite the addition of more than 1,000 students over the past decade, that LASD exaggerates when it claims its campuses have grown crowded.
  • Roode questions, criticizes and attempts to improve on the work product of a variety of community volunteer groups assembled to solve complex district issues
  • Roode is a driving force behind the anti-Measure N campaign designed to dissuade local voters from approving a facilities bond to build one (or more) new campuses.

Before I get caught in my own argument about direct experience and competent judging, I will mention that I once invited Roode to meet for coffee to get a better sense of his extreme attitude against LASD, and how he thinks. He accepted my invitation, so we met for 1-2 hours. It was a spellbinding, wide-ranging discussion.

I can’t swear to it, but I believe Roode is a single retired IT guy, but I can swear that I found him quite a peculiar personality. He seems intelligent and obviously has focus and countless hours for spinning out detailed arguments about school finances, facilities litigation, zoning and more—having absolutely no nexus with Roode’s IT expertise.

What troubled me most about my long discussion with Roode was his obvious lack of appreciation for social dynamics within a school community. Most surprising, he seemed completely unable to imagine how certain social situations I described could be uncomfortable for some students and parents. It was almost like he was empathically or socially impaired. It’s no mystery to me that Roode steers clear of public participation, preferring instead to take long-winded pot-shots at LASD online, safely out of sight.

Above all else, the thing I’d like folks to understand about Roode is that he has zero direct knowledge of that which he is judging.

  • Roode did not grow up in LASD, never attended any LASD school.
  • Roode has no children who attended an LASD school.
  • Roode has never been a volunteer member of any LASD committee.

In other words, Roode has never been a member of the LASD community.

He is neither teacher nor administrator, and doesn’t share certain civic values the vast majority of the community has stemming from educating our children in LASD schools, working hard to ensure our small neighborhood schools and high performing district thrive.

When he makes judgements about district leadership, the merits and civic contributions of our award-winning, state-leading public school district and the value of small neighborhood schools, he does so as an outsider lacking any direct experience.

To be frank, I think Roode is bored and enjoys even the negative attention he gets being critical of a public school district that stands tall as truly exemplary in terms of its students’ achievement, financial efficiency, community support and volunteer participation.

As a judge of LASD, Roode is incompetent. His antagonism is uninformed and grossly out of step from majority community sentiment.

Every fringe amateur opinion deserves to be broadcast far and wide, right? After all, who am I to judge?

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