Still fighting after all these years


by Frances Edstrom

In Cynthya Porter's account of last week's "listening session" with the Dist. 861 school board and the public, she quoted an observation made by Rich Pflughoeft, a parent: "I've heard it said that our wagons are circling to take shots at each other, but I think we more closely resemble the Donner party, but without the same restraint."

After reading the news stories about the things said at the sessions, and having an irate parent call, outraged that we didn't present her case more strongly, I have to agree with Mr. Pflughoeft. It's a jungle out there.

"Dysfunctional" was the buzz word for the school system and board in the eighties, and we were all searching for "consensus" in the nineties, and here we are in 2004, still fighting over exactly the same things we fought over 20 years and two or three superintendents ago.

It is natural for parents of school children to advocate for their own children. So we see people who, in the last round of cuts advocated sparing the elementary programs, now recommending cuts to spare the secondary programs.

But although family loyalty is admirable, if used as the only guide by a school board and administration to running the district, it becomes selfish and short-sighted.

Public schooling in this country needs a vast overhaul, and many are trying to accomplish just that. Of course change of any sort is hard to make and to accept, especially as it tends to displace people, philosophies and institutions that have become strongly entrenched.

At the state level, there is an effort being made to describe and standardize how Minnesota delivers public education. Not surprisingly, this is being met in many sectors with much anguish. We don't want to change the way we teach "” our lesson plans, our graduation requirements, the electives we offer, what we believe is inherent in a good education. Consequently, there is much agitation to get rid of the Commissioner of Education, who is seen as the agent of this change, and further, to opt out of the federal program, No Child Left Behind. Doing so will put us back where we came from, comfortable in a system that for many in this diverse society of ours, does not deliver as promised.

Unless we similarly address public education on a local level "” not simply funding and budget concerns, but the real nut of public education, the basics which must be delivered, we will continue to pit parent against parent, teachers against administration, and make serving on the school board like being in an infantry division in some jungle or desert.

Let's talk about educating our children, and see how we can do it best within a budget. Let's try to see the whole forest, not just the trees.



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