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Friday, May 22, 2015

The Question of Neutrality ???

A neutral position, at least in terms of driving a vehicle with a manual transmission, results in getting nowhere. Well, you don't go backwards, but you also don't go forward either. That can leave you in a fairly comfortable position. However, we live in a world where change is the only constant. The world around us is continually evolving.

Public schools generally reside in a relatively small comfort zone limited by neutrality (think Switzerland). There are several issues confining public schools, some restrictions are imposed externally (i.e. schools can't use public funds to advocate for a position - no money can be expended to promote people to vote in favor of the budget or adopt a stance on political elections) and others are manufactured internally (i.e. "keep the boat steady so we don't make waves among competing constituent groups on a political or social level"). As such, public schools are much more reactive than they are proactive. Typically, public schools change positions on social issues when forced to do so by legislation (civil rights of individuals in the broadest sense of race, religion, gender,..) rather than their own initiative. You might say that public schools represent an institution that clearly follows society instead of assuming any desire to lead society.

Now, I've never been to Switzerland. From all the images I've seen and everything I've read, it's a beautiful and prosperous country. I am not disparaging this fine nation, but merely using one of it's distinguishing characteristics to explain the point of this Blog. The neutrality of the Swiss is a hallmark of their recent history. That view serves to define the country as impartial and fair (although recent issues in the banking world have tarnished that perception). That neutral position allowed them to avoid the destruction that ravaged countries all around them during World War II. There's clearly something to be said about that form of isolation. They haven't lost a war.

On the other hand, they've never won a war either. Don't get me wrong. I'm not advocating conflicts and the immeasurable suffering and casualties that are left it the wake of war, but the world around us is constantly contending with conflict on a far lesser scale that wreaks havoc, produces casualties of a different nature, and requires adaptations accompanied by stress and discomfort. Review British politician Neville Chamberlain's appeasement policy prior to the German onslaught across Europe as an example of what can happen when one makes concessions to avoid conflict. (I don't mean this to be a history lesson)

We may be safe, and our borders on maps remain steadfast, but our boundaries are permeable and shrinking. For example, economic decline, political strife, technological impact, social pressures, are but a few of the daily influences on us all that cross any type of border and threaten our boundaries on a moral, social, political, financial fashion.

Public schools are no different. These institutions are buffeted by winds of change on the same fronts - financial, political, technological, and social. Change is the only constant in an evolving world that has rapidly expanded through the Internet, 24/7 television channels, and countless social media platforms. Almost anyone can share their opinions (i.e. this Blog) and instantly broadcast their views to all four corners of the world.

Public schools are certainly not quiet. Witness the public schools gradual use of emerging social media platforms to extend the reach of various formal and traditional communication channels. But these forums are predominately employed for the purpose of sharing news on school programs and events within an academic or athletic reference point. These communication vehicles are designed to be informative. They are utilized to maintain and sustain a flow of information that is intended to enlist support of taxpayers and convince community members of the value of their investment in public school education.

But what, one may ask, is the public school's view or position on sensitive subjects and/or emerging issues that regularly arrive on our doorstep without answers or owner's manuals included? The longstanding position of neutrality and political correctness confine public schools through the manner in which they were founded and funded. They are institutions founded by a clarion to embrace everyone and therefore offend no one; and funded by, a) public funds generated by a constituency of myriad political persuasions and beliefs - and b) federal funds that are bundled with constricting regulations and restrictions. You might say that it is, and has been, the nature of the beast. Let's wait for the winds of legislation or litigation to determine our course before we raise the sails of our boat.

National Hockey League scoring champion, Wayne Gretzky, once explained it this way: "You miss 100% of the shots you don't take." Maybe if we remain entrenched in neutrality, like Switzerland, we will never miss a shot, but Switzerland never makes a shot either. Then why play the game (especially a game in which we have no choice but to participate) if the best outcome is a tie?

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