The above words were spoken by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell regarding Senator Elizabeth Warren’s spoken opposition to Jeff Session’s confirmation as Attorney General. Her experience of being silenced is one shared by thousands of women who have come up against powerful men who cannot bear to hear opinions that contradict their own.
Now I’m not comparing myself to Senator Warren by any measure, but I rather like the expression as it relates to a recent experience I had at a community meeting.
I received an invitation on Facebook to attend a meeting at Springs Hall to meet Chuck Young, the new interim superintendent of Sonoma Valley Unified School District. The event was organized by community leaders Mario Castillo, Celeste Winders, and Davin Cardenas of North Bay Organizing Project.
I debated whether or not to attend. Like many of us, I’m so worn down by news of conflict from unending sources, both national and local, that I did not look forward to another meeting. My desire to support the Latino community within the school district was the only reason I went.
The approximately 40 attendees went around the room introducing themselves and summarizing their concerns. Some spoke about better addressing the needs of English language learners; some spoke about their disappointment with the GATE program (Gifted and Talented Education) to provide enrichment opportunities for their children; some decried the lack of services for Special Needs students; many mentioned the need for transparency from the administration.
When it was my turn, I identified myself as a retired teacher with over 35 years experience ranging from pre-school, K-12, adult school, community college, to university level. In this district, I supported farm worker families and their children through Migrant Education, was the first resource teacher for the GATE program in 1978, and taught ESL and Citizenship classes for 10 years at Sonoma Valley Adult School. I believe I have earned the respect of the local Latino community.
I began my main concern with, “One of the biggest mistakes I have witnessed at more than one of the educational institutions I have served is when the decision makers don’t know their students.”
I started to say that when administrators, board members, principals, and teachers get so caught up with pedagogy, programs, materials, and buildings…” That’s as far as I got when I was shouted at by Superintendent Young, preventing me from finishing my thought. He directed that we were just introducing ourselves. This came after we had just heard several others express their concerns. I had not spoken any longer than many others in attendance. In addition, my understanding was that he was not the one in charge of this meeting.
I was taken aback and had to quickly consider whether or not to respond in anger at being rudely and unfairly cut off. For the sake of maintaining civility at a meeting to which I was invited, I decided to let it go. I did not want to destroy the cooperative communication that I’m sure the hosts intended. That’s more than I can say for Chuck Young.
When he began speaking, which I believe he enjoys more than listening, he did include a brief apology for cutting me off and indicated that he wanted a polite exchange of ideas, not shouting like he did at me, but he did not offer me an opportunity to speak. I subsequently left the meeting.
Now I shall persist.
In essence, my aborted statement concludes: I have been in education long enough to know that that the personal connection is what makes the difference between success and failure. Students need instruction, but they also need support from leaders, teachers, and counselors who reflect their ethnicity and truly understand their challenges. Our Latino community has specific needs due to language, cultural, and economic factors.
Is that so threatening?
Chuck Young’s promises to listen were betrayed by his behavior. I do not have confidence in him to fairly take into account all members of the community. Mercifully, his tenure is temporary, but the judgment of the board to select the best qualified permanent Superintendent will be critical. I hope they listen.