I have never seen the likes of the past few weeks during which local educators have been squabbling in public and attacking each other viciously. Name calling and blaming have replaced reasoned discussions and respectful conversations. For goodness sakes, why in the world would such a breach in etiquette have come upon us?
As elected public officials, I am fully aware that my school board colleagues and I are fair game for public criticism. But there is something far more insidious going on here than the public criticism of elected officials. It is educators attacking fellow educators. These attacks have been personal, although stimulated by stands taken on education issues. Even school board members have been lashing out at fellow board members. In my opinion, this has gone on far too long and needs to stop. We have far too much work to do on behalf of our students.
Last Saturday evening I attended an event in celebration of Cesar Chavez at which the Latino hero's famous United Farm Worker prayer was read. Of course the entire passage is moving, however it was the very last line that seemed relevant in terms of the current turmoil among educators. "Help us love even those who hate us, so we can change the world."
It is tempting to respond to criticism with a knee jerk reaction, returning it in kind. I am pledging in public not to do so. I take this oath freely, without reservation! My comments will be in support of moving forward with the mission of promoting excellence in our schools.
I believe that educators need to support each other and move forward for the common good, with the best interest of students in the public schools in our hearts. I also believe that the behavior of educators is constantly watched by children and young people, our students. If educators don't model civil behavior, who will?
School boards sometimes go through these sessions called "governance" in which trustees attempt to build their relationships so that they can work together productively on behalf of students. One of the sayings that is touted in such contexts is "Praise in public; Criticize in private." Now doesn't that sound like the kind of motto that would stimulate teamwork? What has become of our motto?
I was explaining my position of refusing to take the bait of the severe and unjustified criticism when I was speaking to a reporter the other day. The reporter said, "Well, freedom of speech and all! People can say what they will." I agree of course, people have this right. However, when you are on a common mission to foster excellence in education and you are working with a team of educators, it is counter-productive to upbraid your professional colleagues in public. It is not illegal. It is just a bad tactic and poisons the working relationships we have worked so hard to develop.
So I have been thinking, what lessons can be learned from great people about dealing with attacks and negativity? Some very famous sayings come to mind. From Gandhi, "I have no weapon but non-violence." From Martin Luther King, "I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear." And from the Beatles, "Love is all you need." I am in very good company here!
Sandra Nichols is a Speech and Language Specialist for Santa Cruz City Schools, the Vice-President of the Pajaro Valley Unified School District Governing Board, and the Coordinator of Special Education for Spreckels Union School District in Monterey County. Her opinions are not necessarily those of any school district.
© Sandra Nichols 2001 - 2006