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
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
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