Friday, May 7, 2004
Democracy at Work
The 246 townspeople who came to the Annual Town Meeting in the Corey Auditorium on Monday evening had the opportunity to see democracy in action. From the time the required quorum of 150 had arrived and Town Moderator Tom Raftery called the meeting to order at 7:10, until 11 p.m. when the 24 Warrant Articles had been acted upon, those in attendance saw the best of town government at work.
During those nearly four hours, voters observed a Moderator who presided over a well-structured meeting which allowed sponsors of the Article eight minutes to make their presentations and voters four minutes to address the Article from the floor. In most cases speakers kept to this arrangement and the meeting moved smoothly along.
Selectman Chair Tim Hult set the right tone at the beginning of the meeting, asking his audience to remember those recently deceased town officials: Vivian Chaput, Herb Bates, Jim Davis and Sarah Andreassen. He then asked voters to stand for a moment of silence in honor of the servicemen, especially the four from Carlisle, serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Finally, when he spoke to the retirement of Carlisle School Superintendent Davida Fox-Melanson, seated in the front row, the audience rose giving her a well-deserved round of applause.
With grim fiscal concerns facing the town due to state budget-cutting, Town Meeting voters seemed prepared to face the reality of the present financial crisis. Both overrides passed, one to fund town operating expenses, the other to raise funds for Concord-Carlisle High School. Presentations made throughout the evening were well-prepared and to the point. The FinCom was especially well served by their chair Lisa Jensen-Fellows, who explained FinCom recommendations to the audience.
As the hour of ten was approaching, 23 Articles had been either passed or tabled, with only Article 24 — Resolution to Protect the Civil Liberties of Carlisle Residents — yet to be considered. After Carlisle Civil Liberties Committee Coordinator Susan Stamps' presentation, Town Meeting members on both sides of the issue had a chance to speak out. Many of the speakers who went to the microphones were there to express heartfelt opinions on the USA PATRIOT Act. Some felt Town Meeting was not the appropriate venue for voting on the PATRIOT Act and wished it could have been addressed as a ballot question at the town election. But as Charles Schweppe pointed out, a Town Meeting Article, unlike a ballot question, gave us the benefit of hearing various points of view, well-argued before we voted.
Yes, the spirit expressed at Carlisle's Town Meeting is what keeps democracy alive. And we as citizens must be grateful to our dedicated town officials, committee members, and other volunteers who work endlessly to make the system work. Town Meeting is alive and well in Carlisle and will be for years to come.
A 14-year-old consoles a twelve-year-old who has just lost a game: "Don't worry," he says. "You'll win the next one." They shake hands.
This model of good sportsmanship didn't take place on the ball field. The site was Hynes Convention Center in Boston, where 212 middle-school students from all over the country competed in the National School Scrabble Championship. Teams of two played six 44-minute games of Scrabble, vying for prizes of $100 to $5,000. Cheering them on (silently during the games!) from the sidelines were their coaches and family members.
I was a volunteer at this day-long event, a chance for me to mingle with an age group I'm pretty much out of touch with. To say they inspired me is an understatement. The kids were well-behaved, respectful, and as eagerly competitive as Little Leaguers. They were funny and serious, confident and vulnerable, rambunctious and shy.
These young athletes of the mind are often compared with kids playing sports, and their Scrabble training is rigorous. In Cordova, Tennessee, students regularly meet with their coach two mornings a week at 7 a.m., before school starts. Other teams play through lunch, on weekends, after school, whenever they can. "I'm not really good at sports, but I'm good at memorizing things, and I'm good at Scrabble," said a 12-year-old girl from Ohio, wearing her school's purple Scrabble T-shirt. "I play all the time."
Many of these kids are excellent players. I was an annotator at the tournament, recording one team's plays for future analysis, and I was amazed at the high level of play. In the final play of the championship, two undefeated eighth graders from the Terman Middle School in Palo Alto, California, smacked down RATTEEN for 80 points to clinch first prize, sharing $5,000.
I also observed kids who didn't do so well. Two earnest little guys had just lost a heartbreaker by three points. One of them dissolved into tears and fled to the comfort of his mother's arms. Mostly, though, the kids took defeat stoically, congratulated the victors and moved on.
Over a million students nationwide play Scrabble through their schools, libraries or clubs. In addition to learning new vocabulary, math and problem-solving skills, students meet new friends at tournaments who share a love of words and become friendly competitors.
Can we launch a School Scrabble program in Carlisle? I can hear groans from Carlisle parents who, in the January 30, 2004, Mosquito, complained about their children's too-busy lives. Yet millions of parents and children, many from Massachusetts, have already made a commitment to School Scrabble for the joy of the game and its proven educational value. Why not here? Parents, teachers and friends can become volunteer coaches, and local Scrabble aficionados will happily hold workshops. There's information at https://school.scrabble-assoc.com.
Perhaps next April, a Carlisle team will compete nationally in Boston, showing the country their talent, good sportsmanship and superior word play — especially those high-scoring words like RATTEEN ("a coarse woolen fabric").
© 2004 The