Show Me How I'm Wrong
When I’m wrong I admit it. I have a pretty good record of doing so. Let’s see who else can do the same. A lot of people think that my snarky comment about the Board's plan for a proclamation for Cheryl Chow was wrong. In particular, a lot of people thought it was anti-gay or homophobic.
First, I would like to thank all of the people who have chided me for name-calling, putting people on the defensive, and using vinegar rather than honey to persuade, then called me names, tried to put me on the defensive, and wrote scathingly about me. Good coaching there. I'm learning a lot from you.
Second, I would like to thank everyone who thinks they know me well enough to make unfounded conjecture about my thoughts and feelings. Since you know me so well you don’t need me to tell you how much I love that.
Apparently people want to talk about this. I'm open to it. Let's see who else is.
I reviewed the Executive Committee agenda for this week. On the agenda was an item about a proclamation for Cheryl Chow. There was no mention on the agenda about the content of that proclamation. I think we’re safe to assume that the impetus for this proclamation is re-active rather than pro-active. The Board does not have a standard practice of issuing proclamations about former staff or board members. There is no schedule for them; it is not simply Ms Chow’s turn to be honored. No. We can safely conclude that this is in response to the recent news about her. Ms Chow has been in the news lately for two reasons: she has publicly disclosed that she has been diagnosed with a terminal disease and she has come out as gay.
At this point, can we agree that the preceding paragraph is objectively true? Am I mistaken in the facts? Does anyone want to dispute this recitation of the facts? Does anyone want to dispute my conclusion about the reactive nature of the board’s action? Does anyone interpret this recitation of the facts or this conclusion as either unimaginable or inherently mean? I don’t think so, but if we cannot agree on these points, further discussion is hopeless.
I noted the item on the Executive Committee agenda and wondered about the nature of the proclamation. The proclamation will be extraordinary. It is not part of the Board’s normal course of business. I wrote:
“I'm not sure what proclamation the Board wants to make for Cheryl Chow. Will they congratulate her for coming out? Is this going to be a practice of theirs, to congratulate people for telling the world about their sexuality?”A lot of folks have read some surprising things into that comment. Just so folks know that I do have a connection to reality, I do not seriously believe that the Board is going to congratulate Ms Chow for coming out. I presume, as many others did, that they will honor her for her service. Still, this sparked two different attacks on me: one from those who think that I was dismissive of Ms Chow’s lifetime of service, and another from people who jumped to completely bizarre conclusion that I am a homophobe or that my snark was somehow anti-gay. Yes, it was a snarky remark – of course it was – but about the Board, not Ms Chow and certainly not about her sexuality.
I don’t think that it is an inherently bad idea to thank people for a lifetime of service while they are still around to receive the gratitude. It is a good idea. It is not, however, the District’s standard practice. If it were the District’s standard practice, then there would be several thousand other people who would be in line for those thanks ahead of Ms Chow. I’m not saying that it isn’t nice that they are doing it for her. I’m saying that it is extraordinary - which is indisputably true - and that if they are going to start doing this for people they have a long list of folks who should be likewise honored. I have looked though the past eight years of board meetings looking for a similar proclamation, but could not find one. Not one. If anyone else can find one, please point it out to me.
There was none for Roscoe Bass, not during his life nor following his death in November of 2011. His service to the community was acknowledged in superintendent and board member comments following his death, but there was no proclamation. There have been other instances of similar thanks, all given post-humously. When people are sick, the wishes are for their full and speedy recovery. There has never been such a proclamation in my memory. Not even a group one for the long-time district employees who die each year. Not to take anything away from Ms Chow, but how was her service so remarkably different and more worthy than the service of any other career educator that she alone deserves this honor?
Also, while I don’t think it is necessarily a bad idea to eulogize the living, I do find it a bit creepy. It takes a little getting used to. I’m not alone in this perspective. There was a story on the Huffington Post just last week about a man who published an obituary for his seven-year-old son who is alive. It was not generally viewed in a positive light.
That’s my view. I think it extraordinary and worthy of comment that the Board is going to single out one person in the whole history of the District for this distinction. I think it extraordinary and worthy of comment that the Board is going to eulogize a living person. Is it not? Correct me if I'm wrong. I also happen to think that it represents a distasteful favoritism that this distinction goes to Ms Chow over every other deserving person when her service to the community was not particularly more dedicated than that of thousands of others. It's that she isn't deserving of such praise and gratitude that's wrong, but that she is somehow alone in that distinction.
As for the charge of being anti-gay or homophobic, I’m not sure what to say. None of the people who made this accusation know me and they have no basis for the conclusion. The comment is not at all anti-gay so I’m not going to apologize for it or any imagined anti-gay element in it. I will be further educated if anyone can point out the anti-gay sentiment in my words, but no one has as yet. The statement was neutral about her sexuality. So there will not be an apology for making an anti-gay statement until someone can explain the anti-gay element of the statement. Is it anti-gay to even acknowledge the sexuality of a gay person when they choose to publicly discuss it?
I don’t care about Ms Chow’s sexuality. I really don’t. I don’t care about anyone’s sexuality with the exception of the one person with whom I am intimate. I take the same approach to all of it regardless of orientation: it’s none of my business and I don’t care. I find it neither good nor bad. I have no opinion about it at all. I don’t care if people are straight, kinky, bi, gay, poly, or what-have-you. I don't care how people gender identify or if they choose not to gender identify. I don’t care because it is all independent of me. I wish everyone equally well and afford everyone equal respect. I have no favoritism or bias.
As to the claims of Ms Chow’s courage, again, I’m not sure what to say. There are literally tens of thousands of out and proud gay people in Seattle. How is Ms Chow any more courageous than any of them? Given that she is retired so she doesn’t have to worry about getting fired, given that she’s a member of this city’s powerful establishment clique, and given that Seattle is perhaps the second- or third-most gay friendly city in America, what risk was she running in coming out and what courage did she show? There have been and still are a lot of openly gay public figures in Seattle. It is not such a big deal. It should not be a big deal, and people should stop making a big deal of it. If, in fact, Ms Chow had been confident that people would care as little as I do, she could have been openly gay all along. I know that a lot of anti-gay bias and violence still exists, but thousands of our friends, family, and neighbors are openly gay nonetheless. Are they all going to get a proclamation noting their courage from the School Board? I don’t think so. What distinguishes Ms Chow's courage - if anything?
None of this has to do with the well-documented fact that I think Ms Chow was a dreadful board director and an even worse board president. In four years as a board director she never cast a single vote against the staff’s recommendations. She actually scolded her board colleagues for even questioning the staff’s recommendations. She told them that they had no business second-guessing the education experts on the staff and said that by the time a motion reached the board it was already thoroughly vetted and the board should just approve it without discussion. She supported Raj Manhas' poorly conceived and haphazard plan for a second round of school closures. She blocked the disclosure of student safety information and suggested that students just follow some "safety tips". She announced at a work session that there is no APP at Garfield, which makes me wonder how she regarded the program when she was the school’s principal. As board president Ms Chow oversaw the shutdown of the policy review and revision process. Prior to her presidency the board averaged about one policy update a month. During her presidency that nearly stopped completely. As Board president Ms Chow pushed for hiring of Dr. Goodloe-Johnson as superintendent and then gave her carte blanche to run the district without oversight or accountability. Ms Chow’s influence led directly to the DeBell/Sundquist boards that totally refused to perform any of their duties and the board members who still refuse to do their duty to this day.
So, no, I don’t have a lot of respect for Ms Chow’s service on the board and I don’t find her career of service to students to be significantly different from that of hundreds of thousands of other educators. But this isn’t about her. It is about the Board. This board action is extraordinary and my comment was to call attention to the extraordinary nature of it.
I will say that, illuminating as this has been, if I had it do over I would have written something more like:
“I'm not sure why the Board wants to issue a proclamation for Cheryl Chow. Will they issue a proclamation for everyone who has a career of service?”Because I really don’t care for this distraction.
Now, defensive as all of the foregoing has been - and I recognize it was quite a little fit - if anyone can actually explain to me how my comment was anti-gay, I am open to hearing it and considering it. If I was wrong, I will acknowledge it and apologize.