Friday, January 28, 2011

LETTER TO THE SCHOOL BOARD: In defense of Ines Segert

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
Mike Martin

1 comment:

  1. Mr. Martin - I am perplexed that though you shared a copy of this letter with me early in the campaign, to which I "penned" a not-too-short reply, there is nothing on this blog about the current race to be decided on April 5th.

    It is true that Mr. Water's would never be a fan of Dave Raithel, but the irony is, I am a fan of Ines Segert. There is no other candidate running who will sustain a practice of rigorous inquiry to reconcile theory with practice. Nobody running, quite frankly, is as callused from receiving public opprobrium as I. People making faces at what I say has never shut me up, nor will it.

    If I get to the Board, I will want time-lines and deadlines for assessing the Pierson regime. If I get to the Board, I will not endorse any more cutting funds for early child-hood education - which the current Board has done despite the members oft repeated public acknowledgement that early child-hood education is a necessary condition of closing the achievement gap. If I am on the Board I will reiterate my observation that suspension policies remove from school those kids who MOST need to be in school; I will remind people that the suspension center only accommodates secondary students out for 5 days or more; but that another 4500 or so suspensions occur (some repeat offenders) for less than 5 days - and those kids are NOWHERE getting taught anything. Most discomforting for all, I will not let people forget that suspension is just another symptom of the disconnection which poorer and darker hued kids have to the schools. There are exceptions, but there is no denying that the kids getting suspended are less white, and less wealthy, than their proportions to the general population would present on random samples. The behaviors have causes which the suspensions do nothing to thwart.

    Seriously, do you expect anything different from what's been done if somebody like me - totally indifferent to anything except what reason leads me to from evidence and logic - is not on the Board? Will anyone but me ever push for what is right regardless how unpopular in the short term?

    And lastly this point: Should I conclude, as I continue to read and make inquiries and serve, that the schools CANNOT fix the problems they inherit from the community, I will loudly and relentlessly exclaim:

    Trying to fix what's wrong with the schools without fixing what's wrong with the community is like painting the walls of a burning house.

    Never the eternal optimist, never the perpetual pessimist, I am the relentless realist - so real, that I do what I know is futile when I know it is right .....

    Can anybody else make such a claim, and then deliver evidence for it?