Michael Myer's Sunday column,"Straw Man Defense in Play," is about the criticism of his newspaper's editorials on school reform. Myer notes that a number of the critics use the straw man fallacy:
Ever hear of the "straw man" strategy of deflecting criticism? It's used commonly in politics. It consists of claiming an argument is something it isn't.
Is that the definition for "straw man"? A quick Google search suggests that it is a bit more complex:
A straw man is logical fallacy that occurs when a debater intentionally misrepresents an opponent's position to make the opponent's arguments appear easily defeated. (from the Rational Wiki)
The straw man fallacy involves misrepresenting an opponent’s position to make it easier to refute. Straw man arguments often oversimplify opposing views or disregard inconvenient points in favor of points that are easy to argue against. (from the Grammarist)
A fallacy in which an opponent's argument is overstated or misrepresented in order to be more easily attacked or refuted. (from about education)
Note that all three definitions include intentionally oversimplifying or misrepresenting arguments in order to score debate points -- components missing from Myer's definition. And here is Myer's example of a straw man argument:
For example, how do proponents of abortion-on-demand react to challenges? By claiming the critics want to destroy "women's health."
That is baloney, of course.
Amazing! Myer misrepresents and oversimplifies those who are pro-choice in order to accuse them of using the straw man argument.
But abortion is not what Myer wants to discuss. Rather, his subject is school reform:
Reaction to our most recent round of editorial insistence that West Virginians need to do better in improving public schools has been predictable. It happens every time we dare to suggest true school reform, despite all the hoopla, fads and promises of the past 50 years, hasn't been achieved.
Just for good measure, Myer tosses in some begging the question. Notice that he's interested in "true school reform" as opposed to others who are into "hoopla, fads and promises."
The column points to an August 29 editorial:"Above Average Not Acceptable." Okay, that editorial argued that local and state test scores are not good enough. That's tough to disagree with but that editorial makes no suggestions beyond the point that local residents need to be upset about those test scores rather than whether board members should be allowed to phone-in their attendance.
His Sunday column returns to the criticism of the editorials:
We must be out to get teachers. How dare we "bash" students! Why don't we report the great things being done at (fill in the name of your local high school)?
(If you go with the narrower, on-line definitions of straw man, these points may be uninformed or irrelevant - but they're probably not straw man arguments.) Okay, I'm sure that some critics don't deal with the issues raised in the editorials but are these the only arguments that critics make? Conveniently, Myer does not specify which proposed "true school reform" is being considered and so we have no way of knowing. Vouchers and charter schools? Dropping/rewriting Common Core requirements? Teach America? My hunch is that there are well-developed arguments out there for each of these ideas. Rather than deal with those substantive arguments, Myer would prefer to name-call his local critics.