Not Eudora   By Harry Welty
Published Sept 30, 2005

A Lesson in Civility

This summer teachers, administrators and students from the Duluth School District got together to plan lessons in "civility" to be taught daily inall our middle schools. At one of the sessions a teacher began complaining to the other teachers in her group about school board member Bevan Schraw's incivility and the importance of defeating him in the upcoming election. The other teachers nodded their assent. A student sitting in their midst listened to the conversation with incredulity. Her name was Melody Schraw.

The conversation was overheard by one of the planning session's facilitators, Kathy Bartsias, a wonderful Duluth teacher. Alarmed, Kathy pulled Melody aside and asked her if the teachers attacking her father had any idea who she was. Well, no, apparently not.

I like Bevan very much. He is soft spoken. He is thoughtful. He has paid attention to the School Board for many years. He is an active volunteer parent at Lincoln Park Middle School and a great advocate for poor children. If anything, Bevan's greatest liability is that he is a big teddy bear. If I was a little more naive' I would be absolutely confounded by anyone's claim that Bevan Schraw is uncivil. Where could anyone have gotten this ridiculous idea?

The most politically aggressive union in Duluth is AFSCME which represents public employees. It has a large stake in every unit of local government: city, school, and county. It will unashamedly use any arrow in its quiver. After helping Laurie Johnson win a seat on the City Council in the last election it hired her. Today AFSCME is using the "Civility Project," a worthy attempt to banish rancor from local politics, to impugn the character
of one of its intended targets, Bevan Schraw.

And what act of incivility by Bevan Schraw has drawn their ire? Bevan had the temerity to point out that the king was naked. Bevan noted, with some consternation, that the supposedly unbiased member of a school district hearing panel had a well established record of bias and partiality.

The panel in question was set up to decide a grievance. One pro management and one pro union hearing member were to be joined by a neutral panelist. When Bevan pointed out that this neutral member, Eileen M. Zeitz, was the President UMD teacher's union, a longtime AFSCME ally, he ruffled some feathers. He might also have added that Eileen had been endorsed by AFSCME in the past and was courting the union for support in a possible return to elective office.

Frankly, if no one on the School Board had bothered to note the doubtful impartiality of the third panelist it would have been a dereliction of duty. In any event the School Board chose to overlook the potential bias of its third panelist and allowed her to render judgment. In the larger scheme of things a union leaning hearing panel was a fairly trivial annoyance. On the other hand, with elections looming, Bevan's questioning of Zeitz's possible bias gave AFSCME an opportunity to blacken his reputation. It would do so, ironically, by exploiting the "civility" guidelines.

In May Erik Peterson, a long time AFSCME employee, wrote a letter to the School Board objecting "in the strongest of terms" to "the anti-union comments" of Bevan Schraw. He admonished the Board to "adhere to your adopted Civility guidelines." For good measure Erik told the Board it "would be well served" by "issuing an apology" for Bevan's "troublesome" behavior.

In June Eileen's husband wrote a letter to the Labor World, attacking Bevan for his incivility and anti-union attitude. From there Bevan's incivility became a matter for indignant teachers planning the District's "Speak Your Peace Civility Project." In no time Bevan is sure to be attacked in the letters column of the Budgeteer and the Tribune.

I can't help but note Erik Peterson's call for the School Board to apologize for Bevan because I was on the School Board that adopted the Civility  Project's nine point guidelines. "Apologies" are point number seven on the list and during the discussion I explained that apologies are a good practice. I noted that I had been moved to apologize publicly several times for my own failings as a board member.

In the News Tribune's story (Aug.1, 2005) on planning for the civility course there was a picture of a bulletin board with the word "apologize" written on it. It was underlined. There is good reason for the inclusion of apologies. Sincere apologies can clear the air after a fight. Even so apologies can be remarkably difficult things for people to spit out. That's because they are resisted vigorously by the power of self righteousness.

Much to her credit the teacher who attacked Bevan Schraw in Melody Schraw's presence wrote a letter of apology to Miss Schraw. Would that the other teachers sitting with Melody had done the same.

One can only hope that those who teach the civility guidelines are as willing to adopt its ideals as the students they attempt to teach them to. Even AFSCME could benefit by paying heed to the principles of the Civility Project.

Welty is a small time politician who lets it all hang out at: www.snowbizz.com

Ms. Zeitz Replies to the Reader