Citing an inability to have much affect on school policy -- a strange dilemma for an elected official -- Columbia Public School (CPS) Board Member Ines Segert declined to run for a second term. In the best spirt of American democracy, Segert routinely threw hardball questions about critical issues to non-elected, highly-paid superintendent types whose livelihoods depend on the taxpayers Segert won election to represent.
Her school board peers -- Michelle Pruitt excluded -- often looked askance at Segert's questions, letting her know in those subtle-board ways that they weren't happy and didn't appreciate the debates she inspired.
Perhaps it was the effect of that spectacular moment in The King's Speech when Colin Firth -- aka, the King of England -- discovers the true source of his power that prompted me to write the school board. That moment brought me to tears, in part because this monarch was saying so much about democracy.
"I have a voice!" the King exclaims. To which his speech therapist Logue calmly replies, "Yes, you do."
Letter to the Columbia Public School Board and Supt. Belcher, January 27, 2011
It gave me great consternation today to read Old Stickory's take on CPS peer perceptions of Ines Segert -- who, like Michelle Gadbois before her -- has bid farewell to the school board's particular charms after only a single term.
I was left wondering why and when thoughtful, critical thinking -- the kind we're taught to embrace in school, and which was the much-lauded foundation of my education in Jesuit universities -- had become akin to the "source of irritation" Mr. Waters describes under the simply titled Ines Segert.
Don't get me wrong -- the op-ed is generally complimentary. It's this tried-and-true perception that sticks out. About Ms. Gadbois' thoughtful dissent, Waters said similarly, "It was astonishing but not surprising that she had to do this vitally important deed over the determined opposition of the school district establishment, which sought to make her life miserable because she was 'causing trouble.'"
I'll stop short of saying "shame on you" collectively for giving off this impression -- and indeed, it's an accurate one [many people do perceive that dissent is frowned upon terribly at CPS]. Instead, I'm left wondering if some serious soul searching isn't in order, especially in this democracy I keep trying to show my CPS-educated children really can work.
Volunteer governance is in poor condition if quality thinkers like Dr. Segert and Ms. Gadbois are marginalized within their own governing bodies. Karl Skala recently addressed the issue when he referred to Columbia's well-known "marginalization process." Recent emailers critical of Ken Midkiff's tussle with the city [over environmental issues] have also been quick to remind me how much he reminds them of the infamous Paul Albert, the first step in Mr. Midkiff's forced march to the margins.
Acting all bent out of shape about dissent seems a woefully immature, sadly provincial, decidedly backward, and dare I say, downright un-American way to deal with it. Columbia's high and mighty need to grow up. After all, how long has Paul Albert been dead, and why do we still have to suffer the perils of speaking up too much, with too much thought and care?
"Too many notes," I think, was the damning line in Amadeus.