Note: This blog draws in part on my experiences and observations interviewing political figures, writers, and analysts for "The Campbell Conversations" on WRVO. To hear past interviews I refer to in these posts, please go to the show's website. The views expressed here are solely my own, and do not represent Syracuse University, the Campbell Institute, or the WRVO Stations.

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Friday, January 21, 2011

I've Seen the Microphone and the Damage Done

Apologies to Neil Young on the title, but if you haven't already guessed, this post concerns the saga of the Jordan-Elbridge School Board and its community.  They're back on the front page again, and are the subject of the lead editorial in today's Syracuse Post-Standard.

I've written on the community's conflict before--here and elsewhere--based in part on my experiences as public comment moderator for one of the early, large (800 plus) public meetings in which some tempers flared, to put it mildly.

Based on that experience and what I have continued to read, here are some additional thoughts--musings in no particular order:

--The news story today by Paul Riede and his colleagues seemed to me to be fair, accurate, and non-inflammatory, but some of the paper's earlier coverage of the controversy--the framing of the narratives and implied conclusions--served to stir up, at least in part, the damaging conflict the paper is decrying on its editorial page.  I've written on this general topic before in this space, but early on I think the paper fanned the flames through its coverage.  To really demonstrate this, I'd need to present a thorough content analysis of all the coverage.  I won't do that--I'll just state that this is my impression based on close reading.  Others may disagree.

--It was my impression at the earlier meeting--and it's my impression based on reading the new story--that the principal in question is enlisting and encouraging some of the protests on the part of others.  Not that many members of the community aren't genuinely angry, all on their own, but I've been to a lot of these kinds of meetings, and that particular antenna in my head was activated that evening.  He went excessively beyond his allotted comment time in the meeting I moderated, with others from the audience yelling that they'd cede their time to him (which is an obviously problematic way to make a decision on that in a group of 800), and he claimed he was entitled to do so because of his position and what was at stake for him personally.  That logic runs out at some point--four months from the October meeting may be that point.  And as I've written before, given the outside investigators that have visited the district, I'm betting there's another shoe to drop here.  We'll see.

--Today's story and editorial point to the tragedy that students are having to witness the emotional excess and the bad blood in the conflict.  I agree, but a deeper level of that tragedy, I think, is the possibility that many of these students are getting drawn into the conflict through mechanisms that would concern me, including parents, teachers, and administrators.  Several students testified at the meeting I moderated, and my sense was that some of the them had been recruited, if not drafted. 

--The paper and a host of other critics are right, however, to point to the direction that the board has taken--toward more restriction and less interaction--as the wrong lesson to draw from the earlier conflict.  It was obvious that this issue would generate public anger and frustration (changes in local education always do)--especially if the grounds for some of the actions cannot be publicly discussed.  In those instances, you need to provide venues for people to express that frustration, and try to make them as constructive as possible.  For all its sharp edges, I left the meeting back in October thinking that some positive things had come from it, and that there was a path forward, if the openness continued and if people could take a breath.  Wishful thinking, apparently.


Lulu said...

I was able to listen to about half of the conversation you had with Mary Alley today, and I would say you went beyond civility into total sympathy for her plight. Your leading questions implied that there was real wrongdoing that we just don't know about. As a friend of the treasurer who was fired on a publicized technicality,which a judge has thrown out, I believe that is wrong and you have done him a disservice. Perhaps I missed more probing questions (I heard the first 15 minutes and the last 5.) I hope so. Undoubtedly there are members of the public who have not behaved with discretion, but let's not forget that the board's actions have turned people's lives upside down and from the articles I've read (not a resident of J-E), there are a lot of questionable board practices here.

Grant Reeher said...

Lulu, See my response to your comments in a new post. --Grant Reeher

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