Saturday, June 20, 2015
ON HAVING THE DISCUSSION
Thoughts on addressing a woeful status quo…
Years ago, I worked as a school principal in a rural California county. Although the population was small, there were eight or nine elementary school districts, each generally supporting only one school site. In total, for less than 3,000 students, the county’s boards of education employed eight or nine district superintendents. The model was highly inefficient, becoming more so when various legislative actions and voter approved initiatives relieved those boards of the ability to determine curriculum or raise revenues. Nine superintendents, nine administrative assistants, nearly nine business mangers, nine directors of transportation: all of whom did good work, but work that could have been accomplished by many fewer individuals had the districts chosen to combine efforts and join forces.
But they didn’t. At a meeting held by the district of my residence – not the district by whom I was employed – the public was invited to a hearing to comment upon the question: Should this district join in discussions regarding the consolidation of county schools?
A boisterous citizenry responded:
· We don’t want to lose our local control. (They hadn’t any.)
· We don’t want our kids being forced to go to a school with kids from the neighboring (lower socio-economic) town. (The kids would end up mingling at high school in a few, short years.)
· We don’t want our scores watered down by those kids. (Oddly, the poorer schools often boasted the higher scores.)
· We want to hire and fire our own teachers. (They couldn’t.)
By the end of the hearing the Board did not vote on whether or not to consolidate schools – that wasn’t the question. The Board voted not to engage in a discussion with neighboring districts about consolidation.
Nearly thirty years on, the status quo remains. Lots of money goes to paying good administrators to engage in duplicative work because we don’t want to have the discussion. And the children of the little rural county are no better served.
This week, another individual has taken it upon himself to enter a public place, armed, and shoot – injuring or killing – multiple innocent individuals. This time, it happened in a church. Previously it has happened in a military mess hall, a string of college lecture rooms, a movie theatre, and that elementary school back in Connecticut. After each such incident, Americans are gripped with sorrow and much hand wringing follows. In this case, a clearly weary President Obama said: At some point, we as a country, will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries. It doesn't happen in other places with this kind of frequency.
Mr. Obama is “calling the question.” He is asking for a national conversation to take place, yet again. He wants a discussion.
Though, when the question is raised about taking steps to work toward assurance that troubled or crazy people not be allowed the weapons that wring such carnage, while 80 to 90 percent of people polled resolutely say “YES,” the discussion never takes place…
…Because a boisterous few argue:
· This is not the time for discussion. We need to honor the dead. (For how long?)
· This is not the time to politicize on the back of tragedy. (When is?)
· The current administration will use this as an excuse to take away our guns. (Only if you’re crazy, and if you believe the statement above, maybe you are.)
· You’re trampling on my second amendment rights. (You are a member of which “well-regulated” militia?)
· If the victims had been armed, this wouldn’t have happened. (A statement which honors the dead, how?)
Congress capitulates. The discussion never takes place. The status quo remains. And in a few weeks – well, if the reader can’t figure out what’s likely to happen in a few weeks, then the reader probably isn’t reading this blog entry.
Having a wide-ranging public debate or discussion about a serious or emotionally charged concern does not mean an eminent change is going to take place. That little elementary school district certainly could have looked at finances and student performance and engaged data-driven dialogues with neighboring schools, ultimately deciding that the current system could not be improved upon for those kids.
Likewise, our political leaders, were they truly leaders and not pawns of something else, could engage in discussions about how to curb firearm violence including background checks that might restrict the unstable, the dangerous and the just plain crazy from firearm access. (Concurrent to that surely should be conversation about how our system might help stabilize those on the edge; and it might also include some banter about race relations. Violence does not occur in a vacuum.)
Frank, open, clear-minded, hyperbole-less talk about how to reduce hate fueled mayhem, might result in some individuals not being able to legally acquire a gun. Then again, it might not.
But not having the discussion leaves us with the status quo: one in which schools, work places, college campuses, shopping malls, movie theatres and now church sanctuaries are less safe than they could be.
Church of the Open Road Press