When I arrived home last evening from a concert, I was startled to see this remark from the Board of Education meeting documented on Twitter by HoCo Times reporter Lisa Philip:
French again, "we have to say these things now for individuals to understand. People blogging out there looking for any way to criticize us."
Good grief. There's a completely manufactured budget crisis out on Route 108. HCPSS leadership is attempting to blame it all on the County Executive, but wait. Let's take a moment to take a potshot at local bloggers.
I must admit I felt an immediate and rather odd kinship with Alan Kittleman.
The work I do is on behalf of the community, but this negative and false statement made it feel intensely personal. It clearly behooves Central Office and certain Board Members to demonize anyone who stands in their way. Some examples:
- The so-called "selfish" music parents who fought reduction in music and art instruction.
- "Greedy" teachers who wanted a fair contract and adequate compensation.
- PTACHC leadership when they allowed equal time at meetings to the HCEA representative.
- Parents and teachers who asked for transparency and accountability when mold in their schools was making people sick.
- Parent Barb Krupiarz who sought the release of the complete Special Education Audit.
- Students who demanded we look at an ugly racist video instead of looking away.
- The African American Community Round Table membership when their voice became too strong and independent.
Although I don't always agree with Sandra French, I have found her to be a gentle, mild-mannered voice on the Board. The fact that she felt compelled to say what she did last night says to me that bloggers and blogs are a matter of concern to school system leadership. It almost makes you wonder if they have an Enemies List.
Tom Coale (another of those pesky bloggers) wrote a piece in February on HoCoRising entitled "Public Criticism and Decision-Making."
What is interesting, and concerning, is what public critique can do to an organization or government body. It can result in the construction and reinforcement of walls. The members trust no one but themselves. They "read their own press releases" and discount outside commentary as either uninformed or motivated by some out-of-proportion conspiracy to take them out. The members justify withholding information and orchestrate farcical expressions of public support. They engage in more closed meetings, faster decision-making, and less explanation for the same.
Why? Because they know best. The hardest thing to accept is that they actually have good intentions. They believe the are on the right side of the issue, but they don't consider how they could ever find out if they weren't. "If everyone who disagrees with us is a bad guy, then anything we say must be good."
There it is: everyone who disagrees with them is a bad guy.
This may be a bigger crisis than the budget, because it influences everything they do. The work of our school system should be open, inclusive, welcoming. It has been reduced to controlling, manipulating, and punishing.
Yes, I was indignant last night, but not out of a sense that I had been unfairly criticized. My anger comes from what this comment reveals: that the voices of parents, teachers, students, and community members are not being heard. They are drowned out by accusations of blame. We see no sign that leadership will look to themselves for responsibility for their own actions. They fiercely persist in trying to make it somebody else's fault.
It's not working.