Students in Spokane elementary schools are familiar with a program called Character Counts, which encourages them to treat others with respect and to deal with disagreements peacefully.
Miss Manners would approve.
She wouldn’t feel the same about many of the adults – conspicuously including several Spokane Public Schools administrators – who were at a community forum about mathematics instruction on Monday evening.
The session was marked by angry verbal confrontations, sarcasm and interruptions. Lots of rudeness, little enlightenment. The presentation was loosely structured to begin with, and it quickly deteriorated into a hockey game without referees.
The disorder was regrettable, given the seriousness of the subject. Public education in general, and math in particular, are under a microscope. Global economic competition will trample mediocrity. Communities must convene serious discussions about these concerns.
It isn’t a new issue. Seven years ago, when Spokane Public Schools added a math credit to graduation requirements, a district administrator noted that half of the students who went on to community college had to take developmental math, and “we have to change that.” But change hasn’t come.
Occasionally – and plaintively – a few parents and grandparents could be heard trying to share the personal experiences that drew them to Monday’s meeting where they expected to hear about an alternative approach. Too often, they were drowned out.
So a community conversation needs to happen. But critics can’t deny educators a voice in the process, as organizers of Monday’s meeting wanted to do that night. Nor can educators stifle concerned citizens who challenge the status quo, although that was the effect of the district representatives’ behavior.
Neither side has all the answers, or all the fault.
It would be difficult but helpful if the district and its antagonists called a truce, chose a neutral site, identified an independent moderator and held a public forum about this critical issue.
If members of Congress can intermingle across party lines for the State of the Union Address, surely Spokane’s educators, parents and other community members can have a civil conversation about children’s education.
It would be a measure of their character.