Making Room for Dissent

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Count me among many who admire PTA and Schoolpower leader Tammy Skenderian. Her commentary “Allow Stress-Free Semester Break” (Letters, April 20) invites respectful dialogue on more than the school calendar.

With refreshing candor Skenderian discloses past opposition to a mid-August back-to-school schedule. Now, with students at LBHS, a return to classrooms in summer best meets her personal needs.

Fine, except Skenderian admonishes parents who disagree to “put their personal agenda aside” for kids and community. Not her intent, but that logic suggests her personal agenda is civic minded but not a personal agenda of opposing parents.

She also gives in – as we all do at times – to some gratuitous civic scolding, e.g.“disappointed and saddened by behavior of some parents,” “personal attacks on our administrators and volunteer school board members,” “voice opinions appropriately,” “let’s not lose our minds.”

Many parents tell a counter narrative of “personal attacks” by politically immature school officials aimed at moms and dads daring to openly challenge school policy.  Examples include a dozen parents in math professions publicly vilified for respectfully opposing trendy unproven math curriculum.

Our elected school board used public school staff and funds to co-produce with Schoolpower social media ridiculing parents advocating for children. Targeted parents were graphically portrayed “losing minds” and hiring a biker hitman to kill the school superintendent. That so-called “satire” was posted on LBUSD’s website and screened at Schoolpower’s gala.

BTW turns out parents challenging math curriculum were right. LBHS math learning compared to schools spending half per student is no laughing matter.

The larger lesson is that school officials demeaning parents as irrational, “crazy” or selfishly opposed to greater good poisons our public school civic culture.  The chilling effect on robust public debate breeds toxic social intolerance we all channel at times, until too many well-meaning parents feel not only stressed, but ambushed and even “personally attacked” for speaking up.

It’s not just supporters or opponents of school calendar change or any single issue who define civic culture.  We all need to work on listening more before we speak, disagree when it matters, and do so respectfully.

High performing school boards promote real diversity by creating a strong public record on the merits with full and fair participation, and then stand by decisions without taking sides in divisive public or private civic shaming.

Howard Hills, Laguna Beach

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  1. Among the many topics of discussion for public education is guns. Shouting down those who dissent from the majority of teachers is unintelligent and inconsistent with what we teach our children. During the past few decades, the number of guns of all types has increased dramatically. With it, the incidence of homicides has declined substantially.
    From 1993 to 2014, the number of privately owned firearms increased 56%.
    The number of homicides per 100,000 people decreased 49%.

    Fact to a liberal are like Kryptonite to Superman. – Larry Elder


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