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  • Last modified 335 days ago (Dec. 13, 2017)

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Dancing the sidestep

Is anyone really surprised to learn that Marion-Florence school board voted Monday to end the practice of senior-painted parking spaces at the high school?

I’m not, not after the resounding silence from the board in the immediate aftermath of an LGBT rainbow flag appearing in a student’s parking spot that was met with vandalism and outrage among some.

Rather than outspokenly standing up for a student whose work was criminally vandalized, the board essentially looked the other way.

Now, to avoid any future possibility of controversy, the board has squashed a fun and creative activity. Four members — board president Nick Kraus, Chris Sprowls, Ron Kirkpatrick, and Doug Regnier — voted to kill it, while three — Jeremiah Lange, Tim Young, and Jan Helmer — voted to keep it. Whatever the split, it’s still the board’s action.

In choosing the easy way out, they’ve set up the student who painted the flag to be the fall guy for anyone who’s mad or upset that the short-lived tradition has been scrapped. It’s his fault, people will say, for painting the flag in the first place.

That’s dead wrong. It most assuredly is not.

A student exercising his or her freedom of speech with the approval of district officials did nothing wrong. That some people object doesn’t matter. That a local veteran stood holding a flag in support of that freedom of speech in the face of Westboro Baptist Church protesters speaks to what that right is all about.

The blame here rests squarely with intolerance, with the board serving as its unwitting and passive accomplice. Because some objected to the flag, no one gets to paint anymore. It wasn’t the student who made decisions on behalf of everyone else. They made their own choices, and this is the result.

The saddest part of this for me is that a board charged with leading education failed to consider an approach used by its teachers with students every day — problem solving.

While the board nixed painting parking spaces altogether, it also left open the door for students and administrators to approach them in the future with alternatives for individual expression. Why did they feel the need to rule out parking spaces without first taking it to the students themselves?

Employers have been loud and clear for years about what they want out of high school graduates who come to work for them. They don’t want heads filled with rote learning. They want employees who can problem-solve, who can come up with good solutions when they encounter a challenge.

Teachers have been hard at work for years changing their methods to incorporate more project-based learning that promotes critical thinking and problem solving. It appears the board could use a little schooling in that as well.

This decision affects this year’s juniors. What better opportunity to teach and learn than tackling what’s become a real-world issue for them instead of some manufactured scenario in a curriculum guide?

Perhaps they would have reached the same conclusion. Perhaps they would have come up with some wild idea like “School Spirit Spaces,” where each student could paint something related to favorite aspects of their classes, clubs, or school activities. Perhaps they would have come up with something the board could not support, but we’ll never know. A teachable moment has been lost.

What hasn’t been lost is the continuing need to prepare our students to be productive members of a diverse society, to engage in thoughtful, respectful dialogue, and to solve problems that haven’t even been created yet.

As the year moves ahead, the board would do well to consider engaging students in problem-solving whenever issues that affect them come up. Not every issue handled by the board is appropriate for doing so, but when one is and they’re engaged, everybody is more likely to embrace the outcome, and students will have gained experience they can take with them into the world.

— David colburn

Last modified Dec. 13, 2017

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