Whitewater’s Local Politics 2021: Majoritarianism

This is the tenth in a series on Whitewater’s local politics of 2021.

The contested April school board election has now come to a close. An animating concern of many parents was that the Whitewater public school should not have suspended face-to-face instruction for as long as it did, and that, in doing so, the school board ignored majority opinion. (This theme played out in many Wisconsin school districts; Whitewater wasn’t unique.)

One can leave aside particular debates about what the majority of parents in the district wanted, for the sake of a general assumption: many parents hoped the district would have  been open continuously for face-to-face instruction.

As forceful opinion on the matter became evident, board members, the district superintendent, and other district administrators began to echo themes of that majority opinion, majority will, etc.

(Quick note: I never took a position on whether the schools should stay open for face-to-face instruction, except to note that any decision would be fraught. It was enough, in my view, that there should be an online instructional option for students at all grade levels. This view in support of an option implies more than one choice, but I refrained from predictions of what might happen if the schools stayed open.

There was, also, no endorsement at FREE WHITEWATER for any of the recent candidates.)

This question confronts Whitewater’s school board, superintendent, administrative Central Office, principals, and teachers: how often will the majority decide on curriculum and policy? If a majority of parents would be decisive, when would it be decisive?

The point isn’t that majorities shouldn’t decide sometimes or even often, but whether they should decide always.

And look, and look — if a majority should decide always, then will they exercise that power over contentious political, social, or scientific topics in the curriculum, against demanding standards of teaching, or against minority rights (of race, ethnicity, orientation, or conscience)?

There’s a simple-minded idea that one is either a friend or foe of education. Under this reading, if you’re a friend, then you should be supportive of whatever teachers, principals, or superintendents do. On the contrary, the best defense of education comes from those who commit to their substantive fields and exercise authority wisely and ethically.

Whitewater can be a difficult place, and it faces difficult challenges.

Teachers and administrators who are poorly mentored (so that they don’t think about method deeply or think leadership is reflexively defending their subordinates) serve education poorly. They make it harder for those who know that learning is more than a diploma, certificate, or degree.

Important principles require a defense worthy of their importance.

Tomorrow: The Limits of Local Politics.

Previously: Unofficial Spring Election ResultsThe Kinds of Conservatives in WhitewaterThe City’s Center-LeftThe City’s Few Progressives, The CampusThe Subcultural CityThe Common CouncilCOVID-19: Skepticism and Rhetoric, and Marketing.

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