The message: Don't challenge bureaucracyBy Jim Trageser
This article was originally published in the July 13, 1997 edition of the North County Times.
The public schools belong to me.
And you, of course. To all of us, actually. Taxpayers and voters; the owners of the schools.
What brings this home is the current campaign to destroy Escondido Union School Board member Deborah Beaghler.
Peel back the vitriol and heated rhetoric, and what you find is this underlying message to the public from the district's administrators and teachers union: Don't interfere with our running of the school district, we know what's best for your children.
Sometimes the message is startlingly overt, as when at a recent meeting opponents of Beaghler were actually quoted as saying that those without children in the district should butt out of curriculum issues. Other time it's less so, as with a clearly unconstitutional rule promoted by staff (and shamefully passed by the board) that bars classroom volunteers from wearing political messages on buttons or clothing.
Still, the message is there: Butt out and leave education to the experts.
What the educrats miss in their arrogance and hubris is that we all have a stake in the education of our community's children, whether we personally have children in the public schools or not. And I don't; we put our oldest in a parochial school last year for a variety of reasons. Nevertheless, no, I won't butt out. As taxpayers, we all foot the bill. As citizens and residents, our future rests in the hands of the children being educated or not by our public schools. And in Escondido, test scores have been embarrassing thus the success of Beaghler's outsider campaign for school board last year.
Beaghler's real crime isn't opposing "new-new math" or calling districts administrators "idiots"; heck, it isn't even plagiarism (which she won't even have the decency to fess up to). Her real crime is standing up to the teachers union and administration, and for that she is to be destroyed.
The mean-spirited tenor, the absolute viciousness of the verbal attacks against Beaghler at school board meetings strikes me as startling. Any schoolchild who addressed a fellow student in class the way teachers and some parents regularly attack Beaghler would face severe punishment; instead, we reportedly have teachers cheering one another on in their efforts to dehumanize this elected official who represents us, the voters and taxpayers.
Again, there's that real message: Beaghler is just an effigy of we meddling voters. When administrators and teachers attack Beaghler, it's really us they're after. When her opponents accuse any Latino who publicly defends Beaghler of being her household help, it's all of us they demean.
We saw the same thing in Vista a few years ago, when the supposedly "radical right" school board majority was repeatedly, constantly demonized before two of them were recalled in one of the nastiest bits of power politics in North County history. The third, Deirdre Holliday, simply tired of the harassment and vicious personal attacks the late-night anonymous phone calls, the threats against her family and chose not to run for re-election. The Vista Teachers Association led that ugly effort, not only attacking the trustees in a carefully orchestrated smear campaign, but repeatedly disrupting school board meetings chanting, booing, walking out on speakers they didn't like. (Now that the VTA's handpicked board has racked up a huge budget deficit, the union leadership is nowhere to be found, much less to step forward and accept some of the responsibility.)
But as Beaghler is learning, that's the price you pay for standing up to the education establishment. Because in Vista as in Escondido, the trustees were targeted for political (and personal) destruction not for impropriety or incompetence, but for temerity for daring to question the agenda of the administrators and teachers union. The issue in Vista was never really creationism or even religion; the issue in Escondido isn't about curriculum. In both cases, the real issue is control and the established power brokers have made clear than when threatened, they will react swiftly and ruthlessly. Heck, ask current Vista trustee Barbara Donovan: Once the darling of the Vista education establishment, swept into office during the recall, she's now a pariah for her role in bringing to light the district's serious financial woes. The price of democracy may be eternal vigilance, but as Donovan is learning, that vigilance extracts its own cost.
Question the performance of the administration, and you're branded "divisive." Demand justification for unproven new teaching methods, and you're discarded as "radical right" or "anti-education." Try to get some answers on students' substandard test scores, and you're likely to be tarred and feathered or, more seriously, recalled.
In Escondido, the current crusade (which already has the inevitable air of a recall about it) revolves around the board's compromise stance on the controversial (and questionable) "new new math." Like many of the other education fads that have swept through American public schools over the past 30 years, "new new math" is supported with a wild-eyed religious fervor by its backers, who portray anyone who dares to question its effectiveness as infidels or backwater rednecks who just don't understand.
Well, heck, maybe they're right. Maybe we hayseeds are too unsophisticated to grasp all that high-falutin' teaching stuff.
But as the folks footing the bill, we still demand respect. We still demand the final say-so in how our community's children are educated, and once the elected board makes a decision we expect the hired help to shut up and do their jobs with professionalism, even if they don't particularly like that decision.
© Copyright Jim Trageser
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