Recently, I watched with interest a news story reporting on a school board meeting from a community in Tennessee. In the story, a student took to the podium to encourage the local school board to adopt a mask policy.
As part of his testimony, this young man began to relate the story of his grandmother, a former teacher, who succumbed to COVID-19. At that point, the high school junior was mocked by some members of the crowed and one individual can be heard to shout, “Shut up!” You can see this sad behavior here.
I do not raise this issue to litigate the efficacy of masks or to come down on one side or the other of local school mask policies. Our position at North Dakota United is that we believe school boards and administrators should follow the guidelines established by their local health units and we encourage them to do so.
Rather, I point out this particular meeting as it has sadly become representative of school board meetings across the country.
And it is not just school board meetings that have witnessed unprecedented vitriol and unpleasantness. The same has been seen at meetings of city commissions, city councils, and legislative hearings. Teachers and university faculty have experienced similar hostility in their workplaces as false reporting of critical race theory has caused increased scrutiny of their work.
It appears our public discourse has lost the civility that, until recently, has defined how we have traditionally advanced ideas in the public square.
I cannot help but feel that the current trend of one side shouting down the other will forever change how we interact with one another as we try to overcome current and future challenges.
Can we expect to solve problems when we do not listen to each other? Who will want to serve on school boards, town councils, city commissions, county commissions, and state legislatures when their service comes with an expectation that they will be harassed, intimidated, and bullied?
It is clear to me that now is a good time for everyone to step back, take a deep breath, and reflect sincerely on the example we are setting for our children and what kind of democracy we want to leave to them and generations to come.