I just got out of an interesting and productive conversation regarding the events of last night.
We talked in some length about the simple concept that people are more willing to be reasonable when they feel they have been heard. It's when people feel like they're not being listened to, that we run into what we saw take place at last night's board meeting.
My colleague challenged me. He said: It's easy for you to say "support the teachers" because statistically teachers in the region lean liberal, and therefore you agree with them and they agree with you. He further offered that because of this, conservative parents don't have a voice in the public school education system, highlighting that both "sides" have valid issues that deserve to be heard, and generally conservative parents are not being heard... which causes the contentious battles at the school board (or course it all depends on which way the board sways politically given any cycle of trustees.)
For me, there's a large problem with how this specific issue has been framed and I spoke to that belief in the post I published yesterday morning on my Facebook page. It's a framing issue. Parents concerned with the language of the opt-out plus policy aren't trying to undermine parent rights or suggest parents don't know best, or even interfere with others' parenting. I cannot emphasize enough that even if you vehemently disagree with me on an issue related to education, I'm happy to see you there advocating for what you think is best for your child (and hopefully for all students). That passion is needed because, as we've discussed, the focus should be on what is best for the students... and various factors and viewpoints SHOULD be considered.
That's a message that keeps getting lost due to a contrived battle (I believe mostly orchestrated by select board members) that pits teachers against parents and parents against parents. I don't believe parents want to fight teachers and I don't believe teachers want to fight parents. And I don't think parents want to fight other parents. Shit, our kids want to play together at the park. I don't want to have a vision of you booing a student for speaking. That's just inconvenient. Everyone who is passionate enough to engage on the topic deserves to be heard, but we must remember the focus: what is best for students?
Don't forget them in your desire to be "right."
Now, even if we can all agree on that, we may very well disagree on what actually is best for students, and that's ok. That's to be expected. But, if we're all working toward a common goal of creating the best quality educational experience we can for students, then we're on the right path toward a solution, or at least resolution of some sort.
In being passionate about issues, we can often lose sight of how to be effective listeners. When we listen to the "other side," we create an opportunity for discussion. When we've shown up to what we already view as a battleground, there's honestly no real winners.
What I experienced last night was the same frustration perhaps conservative-minded parents feel, frustrated by a state law that doesn't grant them opt-out rights, while feeling that curriculum is vetted by dominantly liberal committees, thus leaving them without a voice. These are not unfair points. We must consider them. To turn a blind eye to what the other side feels is not productive.
Last night, "we" (I'm going to assume generally the more liberal "we") weren't heard, so now we return the frustration. We were promised a process and presented with what I believe (and others described) as a bait and switch. I am a reasonable person. Remember, I was a Catholic Republican until the age of 25/26 so I understand being on the "other side" with full conviction of my beliefs and morals. It doesn't always have to be my way or the highway. My mind has been changed... or at least opened through conversation. I strive to be that active listener. I PREFER REASON. Reason is good.
Had we gone through the the process that was publicly agreed upon and promised to us by the board in October, and the outcome was still not in our favor, I would have accepted that outcome (if it didn't break any laws of course.) I would have been disappointed to say the least, but I would have accepted that democracy worked the way it was supposed to and we were given a fair shake.
That is not what happened. We were led to believe that we would hear discussion on a committee policy drafted by teachers and administrators addressing the need for formal language detailing the procedure for how to request an opt-out alternative. We were told that the committee would work closely with the ad hoc committee (both viewpoints equally represented by two board members — one on "each side") and that the collaborative effort would produce a policy for review.
We were denied the option to discuss the committee policy. Had last night's agenda respected and accommodated the time of the committee, those who showed up to speak (look, I'm 7+ months pregnant and I would have sat there for two more hours to allow those students who stood for nearly six hours to speak), and had it been a discussion on both policies presented, we would be having a very different conversation today. I truly believe that.
If you promise a process to the community for creating and reviewing an opt-out policy, follow through. Make time to listen to the feedback on the policy. It's your job as board members... ESPECIALLY IF YOU AUTHORED THE POLICY. If, after all of that, the cards still didn't fall the way I wanted them to, I'll have at least known that the promised steps were taken to give both "sides" a fair review — that the board acted as promised.
I was left feeling as though this had all been one long show, the ending already planned far in advance. It didn't matter what was said last night. The decision had already been made, long before the board even agreed to designate a superintendent's committee.
It felt grimy to me that in order to further an agenda, non-CVUSD residents (and CVUSD residents) who legitimately had no idea why they were there (the entire row in front of me) other than to wear patriotic pins, were recruited to show up in mass, without a true, vested interest. They didn't even know there was a superintendent's committee that was created, or another policy. I mean, do BASIC research before showing up to feign outrage because your church or political party told you so. I ask that of everyone. It's not about you. It's about the students and YOU OWE THEM that respect if you're going to speak on the direction of their education.
PARENTS. Come to these meetings. Share your opinions. I don't care if they're different than mine... I'll let you know I disagree but YOU are the people the board needs to hear from. Not activists from Port Hueneme who have no stake in our community. You are the people I want to listen to... not those who are there to heckle and demean students and teachers.
Regardless of my personal opinion on opting out and the process for curriculum review and selection, the way the board operated last night, under the direction of board president Mike Dunn, was inappropriate, underhanded and dishonest. That to me, is the biggest travesty from last night. Difference of opinions aside, ALL OF US were placed in a circus once more (forcing us to argue in extremes instead of listening).... allowing for those most important to be overlooked and forgotten: THE STUDENTS.
And, this isn't just a local issue. This is happening all around us. This is why we are so divided on every issue. People don't show up to listen because they know they won't be heard... so people show up to fight. I am just as guilty of this as anyone, although I slept well knowing I didn't boo and shout inappropriate comments at students.
Let's make it a priority to evaluate HOW we're framing conversations and what the goal is. Let's not fall victims to Dunn's agenda to split and divide parents and create harmful rhetoric. Dunn has made it clear that he cares more about his eternal damnation than his duties as a board president...so it's up to us parents to do the work. We don't have to be puppets and we shouldn't stand for it.
Don't make yourself have to decide between who you support. Support parents. Support teachers. Most importantly, support students.