Field notes: I am not alone

As I was writing up the account of my recent board meeting, I had to keep pinching myself to make sure I wasn't dreaming. ?And just at that moment, it seemed, there came a flurry of emails from a listserve I am a member of --? to remind me that I am not alone in my experience of the world of local school governance.

The Irvington Parents Forum, which was started in 2006 by Catherine Johnson, co-author, with Temple Grandin, of Animals in Translation: Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior,?for parents in this upscale Westchester town who wanted to discuss?issues in their schools.? Irvington?is about the same size as my district, but with a considerably different demographic.

It is refreshing to know that the professional class is as ornery as the working class; that a district that has lots of local money (i.e.?Irvington gets little state aid) has governance challenges similar to our district, which?has very little local money. This doesn't mean there aren't major differences in educational outcomes -- and?folks in Irvington are surely more comfortable at the keyboard than in my district (where I have an education listserve that is almost inactive): the Irvington forum now has 312 members and they've generated an impressive 5,691 (as of this writing) messages over the last five-and-a-half years. The writing is?often witty and wise, sometimes angry, and relatively uncensored (though anonymous posts are frowned on and Johnson is a dedicated moderator).? She is now beginning to see the forum as a ??training ground' for parents and non-parents who want to influence their own schools.?? And it's public, so anyone, including board members and administrators can ? and do! ? read it.?

So, as I was writing about baseball field battles, this?is some of what was coming in from Irvington (it is a sampling, not a thread, I have corrected some of the typos,? and I had not posted anything about my town; the coincidences are real):

From Charles:?

So sack the BOE

Again, from Charles:

Who the hell cares about tenure? What kind of divine right is tenure anyway? Tenure is an absurd institution/program. It doesn't strengthen unions to defend bad teachers. Senority is a disease not a wellness program to protect the elerly. Only in America!

Dave weighs in:

If the program isn't improved, fire the associated teachers and administrators. Don't ditch the program.

Then this, from ?toomuchfreetimetoomuchmoney? (who identifies him/herself as ?a 20 year old graduate of your high school? and who violates the rule against anonymous posts):

How many hours a day do you spend on this forum? How many hours a day could you be spending making positive changes for this world? How many times a day do you ask yourself where all of the things you are fortunate enough to have come from? How often are you thankful for them?

Could your child tell you anything knowing that you would still love them? Not judge them? Can you trust your own child?

Do you personally know the administrators you spend hours bashing?

Have you ever had an internet thread days long spread around about you? How would you feel about your child doing the same? ? These threads do not even touch some of the issues inside of these schools. When you ask any of these children where the true dilemmas in their lives stem from, it's their parents. "They don't listen" "Too much pressure" "She is mauling me to death". This is a waste of time and energy?..

And Jeff:

I am not a regular participant on this forum, but I do read the posts that discuss the serious business of running our schools and educating our children.? I am not a fan of teacher or administrator bashing, but I do think?that one thing we lack is a real involvement in the public schools that we "own."? More people need to read and participate in forums just like this one.? Public schools are not run by the government (thank goodness!)? They are run by the people.? Note the local school boards that are filled with citizen volunteers -- not educators or politicians.? More community members whether they have children in school or not need to engage, think, and participate...? And that includes 20 yr old former students....? So welcome.? I hope that you can add something valuable to the serious discussions that go on here everyday.

And I'll give Catherine, the brilliant and evenhanded moderator, the last word, responding to toomuchfreetimetoomuchmoney:

'She is mauling me to death'?

That is not a nice way to talk about your mother, too much.

Mind your manners.

A lesson for all of us, even in the messy business of a democracy.?

--Peter Meyer, Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow

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