A Time to Praise a Job Well Done, Not to Scorn
Merrimack residents, for well over a year now, have been treated to the worst in government. Sadly, the bickering (and that's too weak a word) on the School Board and the way the community has been forced to choose sides has overshadowed good things that are going on in the schools.
It appears as if some members of the School Board don't want good things to happen. And when something nice comes along, it seems the best some folks on the board can do is cover it in mud.
Earlier this month, a Merrimack teacher was named New Hampshire teacher of the year. It was the first time the state honor has come to Merrimack. That the town receives such recognition is worthy of praise; in fact, a parade or community reception would be in order.
The past few months haven't been kind to Merrimack. It's majority board membership has force-fed its minority views onto the majority of townspeople. The result has given Merrimack a black eye beyond New Hampshire and across the country.
The board members won the right to serve on the School Board in a close, but fair, election. But the board's majority seems to have taken that result as a mandate to radically transform public education.
Public education isn't easy these days. Many parents have abrogated their responsibilities to the schools. And teachers and staff are forced to devote too much time and energy dealing with issues that Mom and Dad should handle. That's a frustration to teachers and society, liberals and conservatives.
Public schools are not for everyone. This year, two members of the Merrimack School Board have enrolled two of their children in private schools for "personal and family" reasons. That is their right, and the reasons for doing so theirs and theirs alone. But, those decisions also mean that for two members of the School Board, public education has been a struggle, and in some ways, a disappointment.
The School Board majority yields a heavy stick when it comes to education.
Earlier this year, a controversial policy was enacted that banned teachers from portraying homosexuality in a positive light. While the superintendent has yet to figure out how to put such a policy into action, the effect has been to ban from school teachings the words and anything remotely identified as gay, lesbian, bisexual or veering from missionary teachings.
And there has been over-reaction. The middle school has now banned students from touching or hugging on school grounds. An illustration of the folly of this could be seen when a teen-ager was transferring schools. When friends went to give her a goodbye hug, they were reprimanded.
That is what fear does.
That has been the impact of the majority School Board espousing minority views on the majority.
When Deborah Woelflein, an English teacher at Merrimack High, won state teacher of the year honors, she had an opportunity to voice her opinions on a range of educational points. She thought kids were watching too much television and playing too many video games and weren't reading enough. She also said that she and her colleagues felt "hemmed in by censorship, the religious right and budgetary concerns." All were her views on the profession she loves and an honest assessment of the School Board's radical actions on the school system.
Rather than applaud Woelflein for attaining an honor that no other Merrimack teacher has received, School Board member Shelly Uscinski used one bit of teacher Woelflein's comments to sully the award. The rest is yet another example of the board's attempts to beat up whomever dares question it.
In her criticism of Woelflein, Uscinski then delivered her now-famous words on what school should be: not a fun place for kids. "When parents send their children to school, they expect them to work, not have fun."
Some parents would disagree. Some teachers would disagree. Some conservatives would disagree. Some members of the religious right who run their own private schools would disagree.
School is not a draconian place. It is a place to learn. Period. Some methods of learning work for some, not for others. Teachers disagree on how to teach. Members of the religious right disagree on learning. Every parent does not agree with everything every teacher teaches. But learning, as U.S. House Speaker Gingrich would say, is a lifelong experience. Learning and working are not and should not be sad experiences. Learning, schooling and working to improve are joyful endeavors.
What Uscinski has failed to realize is the impact her approach has had on education. A top teacher is something to be proud of. Not someone to take shots at because they tell the public the effects the board is having on education.
What Uscinski has done again is to send the message out loud and clear: I don't care how good you are, how good a teacher, how good a person. You disagree with me and I will beat you and ridicule you until you and others like you are silent.
This page was last updated on 02/02/03.