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The Problem with Retail Civics - Elf M. Sternberg
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The Problem with Retail Civics
Last night, I attended a school board "conversation" for my district. The topics on the table were the current budget crunch and the district policy regarding suspension. About a dozen citizens showed up.

The suspension issue caught my attention. The district has a "NO SUSPENSIONS EVER*" policy, and in tiny letters on the policy description page has a qualification, "* except in cases where the student presents violence or the threat of violence." A number of the parents present had never seen the qualification, and even when it was explained to them carefully by the board executive in charge of student relations, protested that the qualification was so tiny that it seemed teachers and principals only heard the first three words.

The conversation rambled, but didn't get nasty. Two parents describes incidents involving their own children being threatened, and then others asked the question of who sets boundaries and who determines when the line has been crossed.

As I sat there, I realized something important: the feral parents of feral children do not go to school board meetings. I've dealt with feral parents; they literally don't know what is right, they only know what is wrong, and usually what is wrong is what interferes with their pleasure. They don't have the inclination to go to school board meetings. The fate of their child is left to the community, and I have to tell you, the community is trying damned hard to re-integrate those students into the community.

Civic-minded citizens don't make that goal any easier. It's the citizens who show up who get their voices heard, the ones with the time and the inclination who get the privilege of being listened to. What the citizens want more than anything else is to know their own children are safe being sent to school. They don't really care about the feral kids except in the abstract sense of "keep them away from my kid." That's the only message the school board hears.

I don't have any sympathy for feral parents. We want to blame our own civic society for having failed them, but look: the message for "how to be a good human being" has been around for *centuries*. Their parents and their grand parents should have passed it to them. Yet some people just can't be, or won't be, reached.

To understand why school boards overreact sometimes to violent and disruptive students, understand the pressure the board is under. They only hear the voices of citizens with actual civic virtues. Those voices want swift and comprehensive action. That action creates pressure that may drive even those kids capable of salvaging their futures instead farther along the downward spiral.

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