Friday, December 11, 2009
School Committee has a tough row to hoe
Whether one agrees or disagrees with their recent decisions to restructure the school administration, members of the Carlisle School Committee should be thanked for their dedication and service in a vital role in town government. How many others have had the courage to step up and volunteer for this particular elected post?
Recent public comments have for the most part been critical of the School Committee. On November 18 the committee voted (4 to 1) to trim the school administration from five positions to four, creating a combined superintendent/principal position. Shortly before the vote, Superintendent Marie Doyle announced her resignation, effective June 30, 2010. School Committee Chair Chad Koski let every member of the audience have a chance to speak at that meeting and most were critical of the administrative changes. Many called on the School Committee to ask Doyle to reconsider, which they declined to do.
At one point, one of the School Committee members asked where were all the people who had criticized them before – those who a year or two ago had asked for administration cuts when enrollment was shrinking and teachers were being laid off? Where were the people who disapproved of the (since discarded) superintendency union proposal to save money by outsourcing much of the school administration to Concord? Where were the people who criticized the committee three years ago, when (in a 3-2 split vote) they renewed Doyle’s three-year contract after she received a faculty vote of no confidence? Part of the answer may be that those who are content with any decision are less likely to speak out about it afterwards. In this case, how many who criticized the superintendent before would want to step forward now? Silence may be the well-mannered response, but it leaves the school committee wondering if it is possible to ever please the public.
The school committee is a challenging job and handling controversy is part of it. Public and faculty feelings about school issues are often strong, understandably, since the school budget is a large part of the tax bill, employee’s jobs are at stake, the buildings are near the center of town, and changes in the quality of education will affect our children. Committee members sometimes need a thick skin. It would be tempting to take the easy route and avoid public participation in sensitive issues, but that would not be serving the best interests of the school or the community. Thorough committee discussions in open meetings with ample opportunity for public comment is the best way to reach the most well-informed decisions. And occasionally, someone in the audience will stand up and and offer thanks (see Letters.) ∆
My wife would be the first to tell you that I dislike discarding things, procrastinate often, and prefer fact to fiction – even when the facts are boring. So the other day she was not surprised to find me in bed reading a series of articles written in 1910 about agricultural practices in Hickman County, Tennessee. I received the documents from my grandmother when she died in 2001, and I was finally getting around to reading them. I loved my grandmother dearly, but as I said, I’m a terrible procrastinator.
The articles, written by L. W. Aydelott, had titles like “Book Farming” and “Some Hints for the Farmer that makes no Money” (ethanol subsidies had not yet been invented). The articles’ topics included commodity prices (spring lamb brought seven cents per pound, while a bushel of oats brought 50 cents) and advancements in farm implements (bull-tongue plows, 900-pound disk harrows, and newfangled canning devices).
These historical factoids were interesting, but not as interesting as Mr. Aydelott’s occasional dissent from prognostications of his era. For example, he expresses deep skepticism toward the prediction, made in a leading agricultural publication of the time, that “coming generations will have [only] rice three times a day, with our now staple foodstuffs as a luxury only for the well to do.” Good call, Mr. Aydelott.
Mr. Aydelott’s nose for dubious prognostications was perhaps most keen in his final article, provocatively titled “Should farm boys play baseball.” In it, Mr. Aydelott reports that some older farmers were bitterly opposed to baseball and considered it “degrading” and a “time-killer” for their sons. In the view of the old-timers, baseball distracted not only from farm chores but also from more productive hobbies, like hunting and fishing.
But again, our hero Mr. Aydelott dismisses these concerns, calling baseball “the cleanest sport in existence.” In an argument that could only be made 100 years ago, he expresses the egalitarian spirit of baseball thusly: “[Baseball] doesn’t take things to play it as does prize fighting, neither does it take deformed little fellows like the jockey business.” You won’t read that in your 2009 Sports Illustrated, I’d wager.
Perhaps there is an epistemic lesson in all this. Americans do not eat rice three meals per day, and baseball did not lead to anarchy (at least, not yet). I enjoy fin de siècle doom and gloom as much as the next guy, but there are limits on human predictive power. It’s hard to know the future.
Indeed, consider this: In 1977, Mr. Aydelott’s grandson, Paul, retyped the original articles and put the copies in plastic binders. In 2009, a guy in Carlisle reads the articles, does a google search and, amazingly, finds Paul Aydelott’s page on linkedin.com. And, even better, Paul had already put his grandfather’s articles on the web. Not even L.W. Aydelott could have predicted that.
© 2009 The