Discrediting Messengers

Dear Editor,

I write in response to a letter addressed to my wife that was not mailed to her. Rather, it was sent to your newspaper and to the Superintendent, High School Principal and School Board, urging them all to fire my wife.

It is one matter to debate our school system in a civil manner, but quite another to unfairly impugn my wife and her reputation for honesty, integrity and competency — and do so behind her back.

A $100 million school construction budget and a $50 million education budget for our children’s future warrant our attention. Those who oppose questioning are certain that they know the truth and know it is their duty to protect the school system from errant parents. They demand conformity and hunt down critics with righteous fury, to wit, bellicose and defamatory letters to the editor. The method of discrediting messengers has something puerile about it, suggesting we should write only positive news, but it has now sunk so low as to demand that those who disagree with the cheerleaders should lose their jobs.

We should not be surprised. A year ago, after River Journal published "A Tale of Two Schools" one of the shrillest letters you received and printed was from a writer, immune from the solicitations of reality, who is now sadly dealing with an 18 year-old adult son who was part of a gang accused of breaking and entering, as well as attempted arson, in our Sleepy Hollow High School.

Our school administrators are still fiercely impatient with questioning or restraint: they will not allow anyone to offer an opinion on their work. They are deeply suspicious of cooperative efforts and probably convinced that virtually the entire school district, excepting blind cheerleaders, is in league against them. It may look to them like an heroic struggle for our children, but to me it looks pig-headed. Once again, and to no one’s surprise, those who disingenuously berate concerned parents rush forward with personal attacks devoid of any substantiation and validation. It was even suggested that construction noise during school hours builds flexibility and adaptability. Recently, jackhammers were used outside classrooms and it was impossible to hear teachers. How does using jackhammers during school hours build character? At times, the cheerleaders of the School Board leave me wondering whether they forgot to wear their tinfoil hats.

What was the school system’s response this year and what is its approach to our current concerns? For many weeks, the school administration was immersed, if not submersed, in a construction program that has produced problematic class scheduling, classrooms without walls, large classes exceeding NY State limits, asbestos fears, demoralized teachers and frustrated students. Most of the suffering still falls on Grade 11 students who face a crucial year for university grade-point averages that affect their entire future.

Early complaints died upon the ear. To date, nobody accepts responsibility. This irks me. If the product I produce is flawed, it is ultimately my responsibility, no matter who else worked on it for whatever noble reason. It seems our school system at times is like a rudderless boat, where no one accepts responsibility, and people keep rowing with one oar. Concerned parents have to speak up.

My wife and I met with the Superintendent and administrators, and gathered with parents at special class meetings: we offered a host of positive ideas. We suggested shifting the impact from Grade 11 students and spreading it to other less crucial years.

It is my opinion that much information received by the Superintendent is too filtered. Why not invite parents to express their feelings to the Board at a special forum? Working parents, especially single parents, may find it difficult to attend early morning or evening meetings. Why not invite comments via the Internet? Or telephone? Perhaps a chat room forum with the School Board would broaden its horizon?

Why not broadcast School Board meetings live and invite live online questions? I suggested the Superintendent might make an effort to follow-up meetings between parents and principals with a questionnaire: Did you achieve what you had hoped for? If not, why not? Do you feel you were "yes-ed" to death? What should be done? One of our parents, also berated by blind cheerleaders, promotes a senior internship program, the WISE Committee, which culminates with a research paper in an area of interest. There was and is no shortage of ideas for positive engagement.

But I have another string to my bow. It is an immigration string and some of your readers may think it a rather dirty string, but I am unrepentant as an immigrant myself. Far too many students are in our school district illegally by way of using a distant relative’s address. I am usually labeled a bleeding heart liberal but I invite readers who disagree with me to pick up the tab for these students. I estimate that our school taxes could be reduced by at least 20%. A tangential issue, and another of rather high cost, is the teaching of classes in Spanish. The purpose of English as a second language ought to be bringing newly-arrived foreign students up to speed in English as quickly as possible; even if it takes students one year to switch into the English stream it is worthwhile. Political correctness has gone mad when we teach many years of parallel courses in Spanish, right up to high school level. I arrived in North America with English as my fourth language. It cannot be right that we must teach a parallel school program in Spanish. Or Farsi. Or Swahili. Or Tagalog.

What baffles explanation is that our school even teaches a high-school level Arts class in Spanish. Is it a good use of our scarce resources to divert funds from local American student programs to teaching art classes in Spanish? To put it bluntly, the inabilities of the disadvantaged foreign students discriminate against our high standards to the point where the State of New York has served notice of having put our school district on a watch list. We must value the best in English education. Let’s be elitist in education. Our generosity should end with an immersion program in English that offers these children to exchange a limited way of life for another, if they stay in this country.

There are other issues worth addressing. I was shocked to learn that our high school teaches a class with one single student in it. Are we so rich in this district that we can hire teachers and teach a class for one single student?

Rather than attacking those who raise thorny issues, the community’s response should be the urgent reform of, and strong support for, our school’s approach to tackling issues that range from antisocial behavior to budget matters to unshackling our teachers.

The notion that school administrators know best and that they alone ought to be fitting our young people for a long voyage through life is nonsense, but it is a notion embraced by patronizing cheerleaders.

Is all lost? Not at all, but the solution lies not with administrators, the School Board, blind cheerleaders or New York State education agencies, but with local residents along with hundreds or even thousands of parents who decide that education requires constant attention and renewal —not just cheerleading.

Alexander (Sandy) Treutler
Sleepy Hollow

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