Loss of civility

Why is everyone so angry? For those of us in public education, outbursts like Senator Wilson’s shout “You Lie” at the President are nothing new. We hear angry accusations everyday, along with the underlying assumption of ill intent, the sneer of disrespect. It was disheartening to see our President treated this way, and not particularly comforting to learn from an NPR historian that decorum at this hallowed event has been steadily eroding since the Clinton administration. I spend a fair amount of time each week helping folks understand that we really don’t spend all our time in central office plotting how to make folks miserable, or that teachers and principals aren’t purposefully trying to keep children from learning to read, write or “do” math. The assumption of incompetence can be a bit galling at times, but I find that easier to deal with than the doubts about integrity, the assumption of some stain of guilt or lack, of truthfulness, of good intent, or shared values or goals. An early mentor of mine once said “that credibility is like virginity, you only lose it one time.” Of course, this advice was given when facts still seemed essential to matters of truth or opinion. It’s hard to have a civil debate when facts are viewed as inconsequential, when positions matter more than sound public policy, when style masquerades as substance, and when talk radio is considered credible.

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