Deborah Meier continues her conversation with Harry Boyte. To read their full exchange, please visit here.
Dear Harry and friends,
This is good practice for us both precisely because we agree on so much and yet use language in ways that sometimes obscure the agreement. Sometimes that’s actually good because it opens up interesting differences—however nuanced—that are worth widening before too quickly coming to a happy resolution.
My list of four values were pretty tame (inclusive participation, empathy, solidarity, and hopefulness) and it would be fun to imagine why someone might object to one or the other. Objecting is different than just preferring a different four or an additional fifth. Mission Hill adopted a slogan (“Work Hard and Be Kind”) that annoyed me. Of course I believe in both, although I’m equally a fan of leisure.
It’s our priorities we often argue about, and these priorities are often very important and lead us into quite different ends.
Compromise is essential; sometimes it helps soften the otherwise sharp edges, and rewording allows us to “go along.” Sometimes that too bothers me! I enjoy a good argument. But in the end, “depending on,” I like to find a meeting place “until next time.”
It depends on what the issue is, how deep the disagreement as well as how important it is to live together afterwards. Sometimes a split is a step forward, not backward. But it’s not a good habit. At Mission Hill it means that there’s almost always a way to find a meeting place when a parent has a serious concern even if it takes time to find it. Some are “easy,” like homework. We were opposed to it, at least until 4th or 5th grade and only if we thought kids would not be stuck if parents were too busy doing something else. Some parents wanted homework very much. So we shifted to sending suggested activities home to all parents and mandated reading or being read to.
We had a few parents who were upset that a teacher told her 3rd graders that Langston Hughes was homosexual. We took her worry seriously and helped her see that aside from respecting our own values we had to acknowledge the view of many other parents about what was right. Not introducing Hughes to students was not an alternative. But we thought more about when to bring up a famous person’s sexual preferences and when not—and why. The parent appreciated the conversations and remained a stalwart ally.
It helps that teachers have two years to get to know parents well, and time is set aside for family and school/teacher conversation, the staff has built-in time to talk together, that the school itself is diverse and thus we don’t have to do all the talking!
I call these “structural” issues that allow a school—in many different ways—to respect each other and listen to each other without getting burnout.
I appreciate your account of some of IAFs projects. I’d love to read more about which efforts were sustainable beyond an immediate victory. It seems reasonable to assume that we cannot spread ourselves too thin. Michael Walzer wrote a wonderful essay, “A Day in the Life of a Socialist Citizen” (Dissent, May 1968) on what life would be like if everything was subjected to democratic decisionmaking and we were morally obliged to vote on everything. There would be no time left to go to concerts whose offerings we had chosen or make dinner.
The arts of democratic discourse that bring us closer together may not even be “natural.” The arts of irreconcilable disagreements—at least for now—need to be treasured too! It’s easier if there is the hope that a day will come when new events will enable us to join hands and, meanwhile, we might be even be friends.
The opinions expressed in Bridging Differences are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.