Thursday, October 1, 2020

The Company We Keep


For some reason I woke up every half hour throughout the night. It’s not something I would recommend. 

Some food for thought this morning. A sentence used by Biden during the debate has gotten me thinking about something more local. In reference to America’s COVID response, Biden told Trump:

It is what it is because you are who you are.

Simple. To the point. And it has a stickiness to it. It stays with you.

What I immediately thought of were two local Facebook communities and how different they are. Both were created to focus on Howard County education issues:

HoCo School Interest

Howard County Neighbors United (formerly anti-Redistricting)

That is where the similarity ends. The former has consistently worked to be an informative, supportive, and respectful environment for discussion. The latter has been the scene of false claims, angry accusations, personal attacks, and frequent trolling. They truly couldn’t be more different.

Now, not all interactions on HoCo School Interest have been sweetness and light. Keeping the group honest to its mission has required the hard work of dedicated moderators, and the communty itself has stumbled from time to time. But overall I am convinced that it has maintained the ability to do more good because of this commitment. 

Both groups are places a parent might go when feeling frustrated or looking for help. In the end, they are more likely to get help on HoCo School Interest. They are more likely to get people fanning the flames of their anger on Howard County Neighbors United. You choose the community you most identify with, I guess.

It is what it is because you are who you are.

Social media can make it seem as though everyone you know is participating. Of course this is not the case. There are plenty of people in Columbia/HoCo who don’t know anything about either group. They may be getting their information about the school system through newspaper articles, emails from the school system itself, or conversations with friends. Or they may not really think about it at all until they are faced with an issue for their own child, or names on a Board of Education ballot.

We are not all social media driven. We shouldn’t assume everyone looks at these issues through that lens.

However, it is undeniable that these two particular groups are where some of the most “public” conversations around local educational issues are happening. To that end, what do their overall tone, content, and rules of the road say about the people who frequent them? This is where Biden’s statement feels so a propos.

It is what it is because you are who you are.

I think members of both groups would like our school system to be better. But, here’s a thought: if each group’s working environment were representative of a school your child could attend, where would you want to send them? Where would they learn more, be challenged, grow in their thinking, be safe and supported? If parents can’t even create a Facebook group that models those values, how can they presume to be qualified to give advice to the school system?

Every single parent in our community has a right to be involved in our school system. There should be the freedom to hold many different points of view. But, just as each classroom sets up expectations for behavior which support learning and emotional well-being, we as parents and community members will have so much more to contribute if we commit to similar expectations for ourselves.

Hats off to HoCo School Interest founder Bonnie Bricker and to all the moderators who make the group possible.

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