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  • Last modified 60 days ago (Oct. 12, 2017)

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The sound of silence

I wasn’t at the Marion-Florence school board meeting Monday, but from what I’m told by my reporter who was there, the rainbow flag parking spot at the high school was an agenda item.

Note that I said agenda item. It was scheduled as a public presentation, and a member of the public was there to express his views on the subject.

It wasn’t slated as a discussion item, and indeed, it wasn’t. Evidently, there wasn’t a peep about it from board members, the superintendent, or anyone else.

I can’t fathom why that would be so.

Perhaps I spent too many years living in St. Louis, Kansas City, Chicago, and elsewhere, where outspoken school board members and controversy were expected. If an issue touched a nerve, there was sure to be someone speaking out passionately to affirm or condemn it. It wasn’t always productive, but it was rare folks had to guess what they were thinking.

A declaration that the board soundly condemns anyone who maliciously vandalizes their student’s parking space would have been appropriate, responsible, and welcome. Defacing it with road crack sealant and scattering nails on it aren’t attacks on colored asphalt. They’re attacks on their student.

How can the board publicly and repeatedly affirm and endorse an anti-bullying program for its students, yet not come out with a decisive statement when one of their students is bullied by anonymous members of the public?

Perhaps they were willing to let statements made by Marion High Principal Tod Gordon suffice. Perhaps they hope that the matter is behind them and did not wish to stir the pot anymore.

However, issues of how the school addresses and embraces diversity and student rights in the context of our own community, instantaneous online communication, and a global economy are ongoing concerns to be tackled.

One does not have to agree with someone’s beliefs in order to support their right to have them, or to have respectful dialogue to find common ground.

Disagreeing in an agreeable manner is fast becoming a lost art, yet it is an essential skill for students who go out from our schools to be successful in an increasingly diverse and connected world.

Elected school leaders are responsible for setting the direction and tone for what happens in the education of our children, and that task has grown ever more complex over the years.

We applaud the district’s efforts in incorporating an anti-bullying program. An essential tenant of those programs is learning to respect those who are different in some way. If you visit our schools and spend much time there, you’ll see teachers, staff, and students doing things to help kids feel important, wanted, and included. Teachers have worked to add relevant multicultural activities to their curricula.

Board members have received good guidance from staff in the past, and acted accordingly.

However, when determining what the school should do to best equip its students to deal with our increasingly diverse and interconnected culture, and to live and work productively in communities dissimilar to ours, the board must lead.

It’s up to them to assess what our needs are right here at home and develop goals for students to promote deeper discussion and greater community engagement in the realm of diversity.

It’s up to them to understand what’s happening outside the county and outside of Kansas. Not to determine right or wrong on particular issues, but to decide what skills students will need to be successful, productive citizens in that world, and ensure that they have the educational experiences to prepare them.

It’s been said silence is golden, but not here. Not now. Our elected school leaders must find the words to speak to the needs of children going out into a world that is changing, and to the community in which they live.

Now is a time to set sail on a course of discovery about what it means to live in a diverse world, about how to co-exist and engage thoughtfully, respectfully, in a world in which race, religion, gender, and ability issues aren’t just daily news happening “out there” somewhere. They’re a part of life our students must learn to live with.

Silence just won’t do. Leading by word and example will.

— david colburn

Last modified Oct. 12, 2017

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