My Convertible Life

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Thursday Sopabox: Character Education

A few years ago, I stopped watching the evening news because it was just too disturbing -- becoming a mom made me nervous enough, but seeing story after story about fires, crashes, abductions and killings put me over the edge.

Now it looks like I'm going to have to stop reading the paper, too. For the past two mornings, I've started my day as a serious grouch because of the headlines about the new Wake County Board of Education.

Today's soapbox post will ignore the actual substance of the decisions made at Tuesday night's board meeting -- you already know how I feel about the diversity policy and the magnet program, and I'm saving the staff development issue for another day. Today I just want to rant talk about the behavior and attitudes at the meeting following the swearing in of the four new members.

These new members campaigned on the notion that the old school board was arrogant and deaf to the concerns of parents and the community. Then, after being sworn in, these same members promptly got drunk from the kool-aid of power, pushed through eight new agenda items on major issues without any notice (or even printed materials) to the other four board members, and elected one of their own as the new board chair and another as vice chair (a leadership change that usually takes place in June of each year).

When questioned about whether they were behaving with the same arrogance that they'd accused the old board of, new board chair Ron Margiotta (the only incumbent who supported the new board members during the campaign) had this to say during the meeting: "Let's show the public we're going to respond to what they've been asking for all this time. That's the opposite of arrogance."

This is the same Ron Margiotta who threatened to cut off public comment during the same meeting when critics lined up to voice their concerns. Um, hello, irony?

To the "ruling majority": I've got news for you people. "The public" is not a homogeneous group. "The public" is not made up only of voters who elected you. "The public" is not all lined up to dismantle the Wake County public schools. "The public" is more than the squeaky wheel. In fact, only about 3 percent of the 570,000 registered voters in Wake County even supported you in this campaign. That's hardly a sweeping mandate for change.

If you're really serious about listening to "the public," that means you have to listen to ALL of it. Even me -- who didn't get to vote for or against you since you don't represent my district and who disagrees with most everything you did on Tuesday night. I know things aren't perfect in our schools -- and I'm happy to share my list of things I'd change if anyone wants to listen -- but I'm not interested in throwing out a healthy baby with the bathwater.

As a parent, I'm trying to teach my children how to behave politely and appropriately as the best way to get what they want. I'm attempting to model for them the way I hope they'll act when things aren't going their way (some days that goes better than others). And in our public schools, a district-wide focus on character education emphasizes such traits as integrity, respect and self-discipline.

If our own school board members can't display these traits, can't behave in a civil and thoughtful manner during a public meeting, how the hell can we expect our students to act appropriately in school? Maybe it's time these new board members had a tutorial on the difference between being a character and acting with character. And while you're at it, throw in a lesson on sunshine laws for good measure.

Disclaimer: I did not attend the meeting Tuesday night. I went to plenty when it was part of my job, so I chose to spend that time with my family instead. I'm writing this post based on what was reported in The News & Observer, so I realize that I'm responding to someone else's view of the event. No need to lecture me on not believing everything in print, unless you were actually there and want to adjust the record.

Photo by Ted Richardson at, showing three of the four new board members (Debra Goldman, Chris Malone and John Tedesco) during Tuesday's meeting, along with newly elected board chair Ron Margiotta (seated).


  1. Ah, I was waiting anxiously for this. Although I knew pretty much what soapbox you were going to jump up on, I eagerly anticipated your words. Despite not living in Wake County, this news has definitely caused a few grumpy days for me too. Ah, the joys of school boards. I'll just let Mark Twain summarize my thoughts, “In the first place God made idiots. This was for practice. Then He made school boards.”


  2. I've heard both the left and the right say "elections have consequences" and I have even said it myself a few times. It's true, but when it's said in a sort of way that means "the people of spoken and now i need not listen anymore" it really churns my butter. democracy is a process, cycle, and citizen input isn't only reserved for a random tuesday in the fall.

    The folks who won earlier this year won precisely because there was a feeling that the board wasn't listening. They campaigned on a platform that they would listen. Agree with the policies they wish to change, I do not. But even more disappointing is this new era of shut-up politics.

    great post


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