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The Whitewater School Board’s Decision on Early Fall Instruction: 4 Points

Updates, afternoon of 7.28.20: (1) I’ve added a recording of the 7.27.20 meeting. The best record is a recording. (2) A reader emailed to ask where I stand on recent pandemic-related public actions. On masks, I supported the city’s ordinance (to take effect 8.1) as an unfortunate necessity to preserve safe mobility in the marketplace. On a one-month, mostly virtual start to the school year, I supported that proposal, but believe that this contentious issue will fade as the course of the pandemic becomes clearer. (The board discussion has an independent value as a cultural indicator. That wasn’t the proposal’s purpose, of course, but one topic may yield many insights.)

Original post follows: 

At last night’s meeting of the Whitewater Unified School District’s board, the seven-member board voted 5-2 to begin a mostly virtual program for the first two weeks of September, and 7-0 for a mask requirement in the Whitewater Schools. I’ve written previously about a recorded focus group and the district administration’s proposal for the fall semester. See Whitewater Schools’ Community Focus Group, 7.8.20 and The Whitewater Unified School District’s Proposed Fall Instructional Plans.

A few remarks —

 1. The Pandemic. So America faces a pandemic of a seriousness about which some residents cannot agree. Agreement or disagreement today will be settled by conditions months from now. Particular claims today – maneuvers one way or another – will be decided (if at all) only over time.

 2. Engagement and Intensity. It’s possible, but unlikely, that a few intense commenters last night represented – by manner and forcefulness – a majority of the district’s population. Unlikely: most Wisconsinites are more reserved. Others – not participating – may have shared similar views, but less passionately, and so those who spoke were not truly representative of many others. Intensity, however, is not perseverance. People who have by inaction become alienated from their institutions are more likely – by inertia – to stay alienated from their institutions. See Engagement and Engagement-Engagement.

Reacting to every moment and comment with anything other than sangfroid is an overreaction. The remarks of the moment will change little in this situation. The pandemic will work an attrition that makes momentary maneuvering one way or another insignificant by comparison.

The default position to calm argumentation should be an intellectual reply; the default position to hostility should be firm resolution. This latter approach is easier said than done. It’s a good guess that some board members have not during their tenures encountered this kind of intensity.

3. Factionalized. For many years, Whitewater’s political culture rested on the assumption that the city was a center-right place, and so a few conservatives of similar disposition shaped policy as they saw fit. Two things have changed since the Great Recession: there are more center-left residents (at least within the city proper) and there has been a slowly-formed split within conservatives in the area. A new faction of conservatives may sometimes align with older ones on particular points, but they are less interested in the daily workings of local government, and much less interested in taking guidance from others, including older residents.

(These older conservatives, and the children of the last generation’s more prominent ones, are a waning force: it’s both the newer type of conservatives in the area and the liberal voters in the city who have come to play a more significant role. Older residents look to the names they remember, but there’s a new class that simply doesn’t care about those names.) 

The gap between politics within the city and in the rest of the smaller towns that comprise the district has grown wider over the last decade, and will continue to do so. Some school district disputes simply reflect the widened gap between city and towns.

4. Asides —

A three-minute comment period should mean three minutes.

Raising one’s voice only works in person (if at all); it sounds ludicrous on video or audio (and becomes the stuff of jokes and derisive viral memes).

On a list of nearby cities (that more one than one person on the conference call mentioned), only Whitewater has a (relatively large) public university. That alone makes Whitewater unlike those cities (in social interaction, economic needs, etc). If Whitewater is not like the cities nearby, then she’s certainly not like smaller towns that comprise the rest of the Whitewater Unified School District.

The Zoom chat box that the district provided during the session only highlighted the gap between factions within the district.

A rough night, one might say, but we’re rougher times than a single night ahead.

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Anonymous
3 months ago

Last night was tense for a lot of people.

Attendee
3 months ago

Where do you think this is headed?