Wake school debate needs adult actors

One  speaker at yesterday’s Wake school board meeting who managed to speak before the theatrics began made an interesting point that goes to the root of the controversy over diversity versus neighborhood schools. While she said she supported the now abandoned diversity policy, she wanted the new board to succeed. All she wanted was for the board to “show me the money” and asked “where’s the beef.” In other words, she wanted to see the plan the board had to transition to neighborhood schools.

She has a point. After several months of demonstrations, counter-demonstrations, accusations and counter-accusations, the board majority has yet to reveal any details of its plan. Whether you support the diversity policy or neighborhood schools, wouldn’t it be nice to know exactly where the school board is going?

Opponents claim that the board’s actions will result in the re-segregation of schools. Supporters point to the fact that the majority was duly elected and is doing exactly what they said they would do during the election. Both sides assert the policy they support will better serve poor and minority students. Both sides rely on innuendo and name-calling, and don’t let the facts get in the way of demonizing the opposition.

The public comment sessions are merely an opportunity for what board chair Ron Margiotta called theatrics. He was referring to opponents, but both sides get in the act. While some of the theatrics are creative and may be entertaining, they are a distraction from the real issue. Maybe that’s why both sides stage them.

Political theatrics are in fact a revered and sacred American tradition. Our country’s founders engaged in theatrics, like the Boston Tea Party, to stir up opposition to the British crown. Women won the right to vote through theatrics. The civil rights movement was perhaps our nation’s greatest theatrical production, one that sadly was sometimes fatal for the actors.

The modern day Tea Party movement is a continuation of this theatrical tradition, just as much as the rallies and sit-ins organized by those opposing the school board (although it’s doubtful either side would admit that connection.)

One factor in these historic theatrics that’s lacking in the Wake school controversy, however, is people who are willing to work behind the scenes, out of the spotlight, who will actually sit down with the opposition, have a civil discourse, and maybe even come to an accommodation if not an agreement.

The new board majority is behaving exactly the way the previous board majority did. This is a point no one seems to notice. It’s clear that they will not be swayed by anything their opponents say, just as it was clear that the previous board was not listening to their opponents. Yet opponents are not dissuaded and persist in speaking at public comment sessions they know are a sham, then complain their voice is not being heard.

It is. It is just that no one, on either side, is listening.

The plot in this drama is supposed to be about what is best for the education of children, yet no one one wants to play the role of the adult. The problem with this play is that everyone wants to be an actor and get the applause, and no one on either side wants to be part of the stage crew. Once the curtain falls and the actors leave the stage, the play is over, but there is still work to be done.

Wake county schools and North Carolina’s education system in general need more stage hands and fewer actors.