Lingering questions after the school board election
November 21, 2006
I’m not the smartest guy around. Perhaps that’s why I have difficulty understanding why a community would turn out two highly qualified school board members and replace them with a candidate who ran on the proposition that government is responsible for the nutritional health of students and a vocal school system critic and conservative activist with an apparent grudge against the school district, who received 56.87 percent of the vote.
My first thought was that to pull such a stunt, voters must be angry with the Carson City School District. Yet voters approved the bond issue. On first take, this does not strike me as a case in which residents voted with anger. The district did a very good job of convincing voters that capital improvements were needed for the children, and they are. Further, taxes will not be increased.
Still, that the bond issue was successful is not sufficient evidence to discount voter anger at the system. There must be some other dynamic involved. For example, it is no secret that American political conservatives are angry with the American school system in general. As a conservative on the far right, Joe Enge, one of the two successful candidates, also appears to be angry with the Carson City School District in particular. It seems he ran for the seat to “… make sure someone challenged ideas.” I noticed in the Nevada Appeal March 3, 2006, that he reported receiving a negative performance review as a history teacher because he was a whistleblower.
I wonder if Carson City voters put aside their misgivings about Joe Enge and voted their political ideology. Did the voters see an advantage to replacing an activist board member of the far right, Sheila Ward, with another conservative activist? Perhaps it is because he may serve both functions. First, he can be a constant burr under the district’s saddle, citing its failures ad infinitum while appeasing the angry feelings held by those who voted for him. Or perhaps, as a political ideologue, he may represent the activist part of that anger.
Is this conservative anger at the American school system misdirected? If so, where should it be directed? What is the connection between Joe Enge and the real problem? Perhaps the seat of some student failure is not found in the microsystem (the school systems). Perhaps we should look at the broader cultural system, the basic unit of society, the American family and family authority vested in parents, i.e., voters. This seems more plausible. While acknowledged privately, politicians of both persuasions are unwilling to risk political suicide by faulting parents for the ills most people assign to the school system. The cause of shortcomings expressed in test scores and high school drop-outs may not be them, it may be us.
A quick click on the Carson City School District Web site finds the district’s mission statement: “… to contribute to the development of successful young adults who will make healthy contributions to themselves, their families, the State of Nevada, our great nation and the world.”
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To emphasize my point, the district has it right. The American school system should only “contribute to” as a part of a holistic network of contributors all of whom educate. No school system can educate the whole child, and we should not expect any institution outside the family to do so. If we hold such expectations, they will not and should not be met. Few, if any, outside the system will achieve our standards as parents, however misguided our expectations may be. When our children fail, we say it is their fault. When they succeed, we claim it is our success.
On the other hand, perhaps voters do prefer partisan school board candidates based upon political ideology. Isn’t that how it really works in America? Shouldn’t school board decisions reflect the social and political values and beliefs of the community they represent? Elections to the school board are held alongside of and at the same time as politicians running for partisan office. Thus, isn’t school board candidacy really a partisan political process? Can or should political values and beliefs held by board members, who are endorsed by political parties, be separate from a member’s influence on the board?
Perhaps we need the Joe Enges of this world to help keep us on our toes. But we don’t need the Joe Enges who point to false causes for reasons other than contributing to the development of our children and the improvement of our culture.
• Dan Mooney of Carson City is a frequent contributor to the Nevada Appeal opinion page.