It has taken me a while to wrap my head around the contentious issues in the current school board debate. My kids are adults now, and I have not had much direct contact with the school system for about a decade, so I must confess to not being as aware of what’s going on as perhaps I ought to be. I’ve been trying to play catch-up.
The current special election has gotten very ugly, and that is not very surprising. There are (at least) two major factions in the Iowa City Community School District, each convinced of its own moral superiority, and while the candidates remain largely above the fray, supporters on both sides have tossed around scurrilous accusations about opposing candidates and their supporters. Most of the time, these take the form of whispered accusations of racism because one side disagrees with how the other side would address racial and economic equity in our schools.
I am not an expert on these matters – in fact, save for some culinary pursuits I am not an expert in any matters. But I am a reasonably well-educated person and can recognize people who are experts in other fields. JP Claussen’s experience, erudite explanations of issues, and ability to use peer-reviewed research to support his positions are impressive to me, as are the facts that he carries both a Labor endorsement and the support of Stephanie Van Housen, whose opinion I value. Thus, I have already cast my vote for Mr. Claussen.
That said, I do not doubt the good will of Mr. Roesler or his supporters, and must in good faith admit that I do not know as much as I should have about the campaign of Janice Weiner. What I have concluded though is that all three candidates hold firmly to their stances that their proposals are best for the children, and to their beliefs that their positions are the ones that will bring about equity and integration.
In my own campaign for Johnson County Supervisor, a race in which I was fortunate to have earned my party’s nomination for the general election in November, I spoke and wrote at length about the importance of getting out of our “comfort zones,” and that we all (myself included) ought to go and cross paths and break bread with others throughout our community. Attend a different church from time to time. Play in a different park. Invite someone you barely know, who has some form of cultural difference with you, to dinner in your home.
Human beings are naturally cautious, even fearful, of the unfamiliar and unknown. We shy away from what we don’t understand. We learned this from our parents and we teach this to our children, both consciously and unconsciously. Fully integrating our schools – racially, ethnically, economically – can go a long way toward breaking down the sorts of barriers that cause to the terrible scenes we’ve witnessed in Baton Rouge, and Dallas, and Falcon Heights recently. But school integration by itself is insufficient, as is my suggestion that we all escape our silos from time to time.
We must integrate our living situations as well. Until people who are “other” to us are our neighbors, they will forever remain “other.” Until we gather around tables like neighbors and share food with each other we will not truly know each other. Our neighborhoods need to reflect the better angels of our natures if we are all to truly live the ideals we profess to believe.
Thus it is my hope, no matter how this school board special election turns out, that since all concerned profess a desire for more integration in our schools, I can count on wide support in the community for my proposals both for a county-wide baseline inclusive zoning ordinance and for a metropolitan transit authority. Everything is intersectional – our school district disputes connect to housing, transportation, poverty and hunger, and so much more. We must not merely profess our ideals; we must live them.