Knot Pining: Discourse as discord rises
April 15, 2022
Sometimes I feel like I’m 12 years old. Other times I feel all of the many decades of my nose to the journalism grindstone. It’s a constant battle of finding the youthful energy to be indignant versus what the spent energy will yield in the end for one who’s seen this all before.
This too, shall pass. Ignore all the noise. Save your energy.
The current state of public discourse on a national and local level has reached an unnerving point, especially in a state known for its civic sense of duty and interest in getting a fair shake for everyone. Things have devolved into personal beefs, conspiratorial outbursts, victimization, and outright power grabs that go against all that we hold dear to in the American system of governance and public policy.
When I was 12, the school board in the small town in southern Minnesota where I went to school was dysfunctional. It was being lorded over by one man who appointed himself king. According to scant details I was able to pick up in news and personal accounts from 40 years ago, the board chair was a zealot who was blaming everything wrong in society on the schools.
Things were so bad, a reporter from the Minneapolis Tribune was sent down to see just what the hell was going on. In the first two years that the tyrant had been lording over the district, there were two changes in superintendents, two high school principals and three elementary principals.
The Tribune article quoted people, many anonymously, offering the tenor of things. He was referred to as an “authoritarian meddler” and a “little Hitler.” Staff said he regarded every initiative brought before the board with suspicion. He wanted the curriculum of every teacher checked.
That the big city paper was down covering the school board was telling enough. That I, as a 12-year-old, was attending meetings was another sign that what was going on was affecting everyone and the very soul of the community.
We were a wrestling family, and the chair was threatening to cut the program, laughably purporting that it cost too much compared to say, the hockey program. His son played hockey, of course.
The chair was against anything he considered ruinous to the fabric of the American family. He blamed “human secularism” in the schools for everything wrong in society. He didn’t think sex education or drug awareness programs should be taught, saying that neither were a problem.
I had older brothers and a sister who could plainly tell you that his perspective on sex and drugs at the time was wrong. Very wrong.
Does this all remind you of anything?
In the Tribune story, the chair said he wasn’t going to comment to a nosy reporter. “Do you want to know one of the things that’s wrong with this country?” he asked before hanging up. “You can ask any question you want of somebody. But that doesn’t mean you have to get an answer.”
That is some kind of twisted logic from a public official.
And I’ve heard a lot of similar logic since then in covering what I can only guess are a few thousand city council, school board, town board, or legislative meetings across the years.
Those who attend public meetings needn’t feel sorry for us poor, ink-stained wretches. We hear lies spewed at the media, and lies about our own reporting and motives all the time. We hear twisted facts and not-so-clever omissions of facts. None of it really sticks to me.
Most often, those who employ invective about media coverage simply like the public spotlight and need a cheap bogeyman as their foil. Given ample opportunity outside of meetings and without an audience to refute and demand any type of clarification, retraction or correction in the coverage that they deem is warranted, they either have no evidence to back up their claims or they don’t even try.
Rinse and repeat. Only it’s happening so often these days.
I just think it’s sad, likely because I think of my preteen self and being scared about what was happening to the community around me. Why was everyone so mad, so broken? I saw bad things happen and bad people doing them in television dramas, not in real life. Yet here we were.
It did all pass, of course, though I’m not sure when the chair finally left the board and things returned to feeling normal. I recall how difficult it must have been to be one of his kids, whom I went to school with every day.
I’ve been ruminating on the portion of that old article about “human secularism” and how it was ruining lives. Here is a bit of a definition picked up off the internet:
“Fundamental to the concept of secular humanism is the strongly held viewpoint that ideology — be it religious or political — must be thoroughly examined by each individual and not simply accepted or rejected on faith. Along with this, an essential part of secular humanism is a continually adapting search for truth, primarily through science and philosophy.”
If only we all could go back to school and relearn this. I’ll add that acting in a civil manner, with respect to others, is part of that journey to truth.
Mike is a reporter and page designer for the Pine Knot News. He can be reached at [email protected] KnotNews.com.