Cook column: Hitting parents in the gut
You want parent involvement? Just mention school redistricting. There’s not much a school system can do to draw more reaction from parents than to move their children.
One reader commented recently that the thought of having to send his child to a school not of his choosing made his chest feel tight and his stomach hurt.
North Rowan High School students and parents are probably experiencing the same visceral reaction as they hear people fiercely oppose redistricting their kids to North. I got a little tense myself when I saw a sign in the eastern part of the county recently that proclaimed in big, bold letters: “NO TO NORTH.”
Regardless of how carefully people couch their objections ó not that most people try ó it feels like rejection to the people at the smaller school. An insult. As though people think they are too good for your school.
We went through that when our daughters were at Salisbury High and people in neighborhoods along N.C. 150 resisted moving their children from West Rowan High to Salisbury.
But, by the same token, people in our neighborhood have resisted being moved to North through the years. It’s the parental version of NIMBY. Instead of Not in My Back Yard, parents proclaim Not My Child.
Resistance to change and parental protectiveness are strong forces. Something else is at work these days, too ó the power of choice. The marketplace offers consumers infinite choices, from the flavor of toothpaste you put in your mouth to the array of channels on your television set. As a generation, we’re accustomed to choosing and getting what we want.
Enter the public school system, which needs to logically distribute students to make the best use of its buildings and personnel. The school board needs to be able to say who goes where, and it has that legal authority.
The law aside, though, everyone thinks he or she is an authority on schools, as someone who used to work in public education explained to me last week. We all went to school, he said; we remember how it works. So we think we know as much about it as the people who work for the system full-time.
The good news in all the gut-wrenching redistricting debate is that people like their schools. They love their teachers and traditions and their friends, and they don’t want to change a thing. While pundits like Cal Thomas call for people to reclaim the American way by rejecting public education (see his column on this page), thousands of Rowan families are embracing their schools ó in a tight grip. They like public schools so much, they will put up a fight to stay right where they are. There’s a civics lesson.
When our family first entered the teenage drama years, I responded to my daughters’ complaints by saying, “It’s not the end of the world.” But it was the end of the world to them ó whatever it was at the moment ó so I learned to be quiet and listen. Sometimes that’s all they really wanted.
I’d tell the parents concerned about redistricting the same thing; changing schools is not the end of the world. But it is to them. So I hope the school board will be quiet and listen. That may not be all the board has to do, but it’s certainly the most important step.
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Elizabeth Cook is editor of the Salisbury Post.