Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Broken engagement

I got a kick out of our district’s new e-newsletter, The District Dialogue. Despite the title, there is no way to comment on the articles. Maybe, as another parent said to me, “they are confusing the word dialogue with the similar word monologue.”

The newsletter directs people to the district’s engagement website to “join the conversation.” It’s a great site to go to if you want your dialogue to be channeled, micromanaged, and straitjacketed. (See posts here and here.) It’s the kind of “dialogue” you’d expect from people who really like multiple-choice tests. Unsurprisingly, the “conversation” at the site has dwindled to nearly nothing, only a few months after the site began.

Of course, the internet and social media provide endless opportunities for people to connect with each other and discuss issues in whatever way they like, sans the self-serving paternalism. Why go to the baby pool when the ocean is right there?

Karen W. has a great post up about what meaningful engagement does and doesn’t look like. Call me a Luddite, but I’d be happy just to have a bulletin board. I’ve often wondered what would happen if I were simply to post a sign on the wall at our elementary school. Nothing big – maybe just a sheet of paper protesting the short lunch periods, posted where parents dropping off their kids would see it. Do you think the school would let it stay up? If not, what would their rationale for removing it be?


LAB said...

I love your idea about putting a small sign up at the school for other parents to see. I guarantee the school would take it down. The excuse would probably be that the bulletin board is for staff and faculty use only.

When I tried to create change at our public school, my stumbling block was other parents who seemed to think the issues (short lunch, too many tests, too much homework, short/no recess), while annoying, were somehow for the good of the children. The parents I talked to were bothered by the issues that bothered me, but considered them a necessary evil. No amount of evidence (studies about homework being useless at the elementary level, for example) convinced them, because they were worried about their children "falling behind" if they didn't have the same rigorous grind all kids in "good schools" are dealing with. Really depressing.

Chris said...

LAB -- I'm no First Amendment scholar, but my bet is that "the bulletin board is for staff and faculty use only" would not be a complete defense. Any more than "the park is for non-protester use only."

I recently read that in Singapore, “the government restricts public demonstrations to a corner of one park.” Maybe in the spirit of promoting global competitiveness, the school would take a similar position, allowing me to post the sign in some basement stairwell or something.

You may well be right that other parents would be reluctant to buck the school's policies, and might agree with them. I'd still much rather put my fate (or my kids' fate) democratically into the hands of my fellow Iowa Citians than into the hands of unelected school administrators and of Congresspeople and state legislators who aren't elected on school issues, especially if that meant that the issues would at least get debated. Judging from the public reaction here to the fifteen-minute lunch issue (scores of comments on the local news articles, almost entirely in favor of longer lunches), some things might actually change for the better if the local public got to decide.