Saturday, January 12, 2013

Mother may I

Maria Houser Conzemius reports that today’s school board “listening post” on the proposed diversity policy
reminded me of the game “Mother May I.” The board tried to exercise far too much control over who talked and what they said. They insisted on alternating “pro” and “con” speakers on the diversity policy. They demanded respect, though I found nothing wrong with one speaker say that he didn’t trust the board to do what the board says it will do.
Can alternating between pro and con speakers—thus making someone’s permission to speak at a public meeting contingent on the viewpoint they’re planning to express—possibly be consistent with the First Amendment? Does it depend on whether the pro and con sides were roughly numerically equal? Is there any evidence they were? What about speakers who were neither pro nor con?

The school board’s discomfort with free expression never fails to surprise me. For crying out loud, just suck it up and let people talk. Related post here.


Unknown said...

It's a good way to hide the numbers of the opposition.

Chris said...

Billy -- It would certainly have that effect, if the numbers pro and con were not roughly equal. I don't know how the board members could know in advance whether the numbers were equal.

Unknown said...

From responses in various forums the policy does not seem very popular at all.

Jana Happel said...

The board's limitation on speech must be viewpoint neutral. I agree that the format was stupid. But the operative question must be whether the format prohibited anyone who wanted to speak from having the opportunity. If that happened, then speech was impermissibly restricted on the basis of viewpoint.

Another Chris said...

Florida teacher here. I think this problem that you've highlighted is indicative of the general Orwellian nature of public education today.

Many years ago when I was a new teacher there was room for disagreement over programs, curricula, disciplinary methodology, etc. My first 3 principals actually invited faculty and staff to share their opinions, both pro and con, before major decisions were made about purchase and implementation. We hashed things out in a sometimes tense atmosphere but we were allowed and encouraged to be a part of the process.

Now many, if not most, schools have lost the ability to even engage in these kinds of decisions as the power to review and purchase has moved ever higher and more remote from actual school sites.

Since the passage of NCLB and now RTTT, there is no room for disagreement. If you don't agree and support whatever the latest flavor of the day reform happens to be, you are labelled a troublemaker and put on a fast track to ostracism and potential dismissal. Quick retaliation is de facto with hostile calls of being part of the "problem" instead part of the "solution" whether or not you even agree that a problem exists at all.

There are actually statements printed and read aloud at the beginning of meetings and professional development classes that make this point bluntly and clearly.

I've been struck by how every single instance of a gathering over the CCSS. for one example, devotes the entire first 30 minutes to explicitly reading from the defensive preamble to the standards and stating how the federal, state, and local district have embraced these standards and that questioning and disagreement will not be tolerated because they are not productive.

Another of the long list of "business" practices that have infiltrated and poisoned public education in the United States. Management (federal and state bureaucrats and politicians, board members and administrators) have all the power and teacher/staff workers and consumers (parents and children) are secondary or tertiary concerns if they register at all.

I wish you well in fighting this menace.