A friend handed me a clipping of a column I wrote during a contentious school board election more than 20 years ago.
As the saying goes, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
The column was about how nasty the rhetoric had become, especially from a group running a slate of candidates who complained about a range of things, from the alleged incompetence of staff members to how much money the superintendent of schools was paid to sit in his office and show up for school board meetings.
I had forgotten the column, but not the election fight. It was not the first battle engaged in by unhappy parents, and recent headlines on articles about school issues have echoes of tales from my early years on the school board beat, and even before.
I recently attended a reunion of the first class to go through all four years at the “new” North Carroll High School. Students from Manchester and Hampstead high schools were consolidated in the new school halfway between the two towns in Greenmount. There had been outrage, mostly among or between parents, over the merger.
Traditions were being ignored; cultural values were at risk. There would be fights between former athletic rivals, and a break in community identities. The world, as we knew it, was coming to an end.
As far as I could tell, the kids got along fine. We had fights among ourselves in the old schools, and some would continue in the new school, but that was one of those cultural things, those traditions, mentioned before. Their teams won championships. Life went on.
Within four years, I was a reporter for the Hanover Evening Sun, covering a story about parents in Mount Airy and Sykesville coming together to fight consolidation of their community high schools into a new one, halfway between: South Carroll.
Mothers cried that their daughters would be distraught if they were separated from their lifelong friends and forced to go to classes with strangers. Fathers groused that the consolidation would lead to the sacrilege of moving sports trophies and banners and flags of past victories on the fields and courts.
How will we hold on to our unique relationships in the community?
No one wanted to stop and think that within two years, their precious ones would be scattered off to jobs, the military, myriad colleges or technical training, or moving across the country for marriage or just for the adventure of new places.
Fear of change was the universal emotion, and there was little attention given to the rational questions at hand: What are the alternatives for meeting growing class sizes and changes in technologies and educational programs needed to meet emerging issues? It seems parents either choose to ignore educational issues altogether or go too far the other way and demand to have total control.
There were many who got little attention for being engaged and active in their positive and noncontroversial support for the schools.
That was then, and it still is the same today. Moms decide to run for the school board because their child was told to put the cellphone away. A school policy against bringing medications to school and taking them during class escalates into legal action challenging perceived incursions into parental authority.
Now, as half a century ago, parents think they can control what books their kids read, or what they learn about the larger world. Once kids themselves, parents forget the days of their own youthful curiosities and indiscretions — and what they learned from the books.
I covered public education and politics as a reporter and editor for 40 years and married a woman who would dedicate her life to teaching for longer than that. At the end of my public life, as a county commissioner, I attended school board meetings as a nonvoting ex officio member.
These two things can be true at the same time: Nothing is more essential than education in a free and advancing society; nothing can be as frustrating, mind-numbing and sometimes discouraging as trying to get parents to let their kids go and enter the wider world with the dedicated and well-trained assistance of professional educators.
Dean Minnich is still a student. He writes from Westminster.