Majority Apathy (Demo)

I woke this morning to news of North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un woof tickets regarding settling accounts with the U.S. after the U.S. military had a B-2 bomber size show of military force in South Korea.  I kept thinking, just what does this little nutted up freak want?  The UN sanctions aren’t going anywhere.  Even China, North Korea’s main trade partner, has sided with the U.S. when it comes to sanctions that prevent North Korea’s nuclear technology development.  My question persisted as I looked at the local news, which really should be renamed “the bad news.”  What do the people of the District/Maryland/Virginia want, specifically Prince George’s County?  
Our battle cry is a call for a better education system, a better economy, development, but what we have is essentially factions fighting over control.  Without consulting the school board (NOT a fan of the school board) or the Prince George’s County Council, our beloved leader County Executive Rushern Baker concocted a piece of legislation that would essentially strip the board of education of power over the budget, transportation, and remove their superintendent oversight.  Here it is.  Everyone’s talking about the bill (MD Senate bill 1071) so here’s what all the fuss is about.
[box type=”info”] FOR the purpose of revising the composition of the Prince George’s County Board of Education; providing for the appointment of certain members of the county board by the County Executive of Prince George’s County and the Prince George’s County Council; providing for a certain ex officio voting member of the  county board; providing for the qualifications, terms of office, and the filling of a vacancy of certain members of the county board; repealing certain provisions for the filling of a vacancy of certain members of the county board; providing for the appointment of certain nonvoting representatives to the county board;  authorizing the provision of health insurance and other fringe benefits for appointed members of the county board; requiring the affirmative vote of a certain number of members of the county board for the passage of a certain motion; authorizing the Prince George’s County Superintendent of Schools to  determine certain geographical attendance areas and consolidate schools under 16 certain circumstances; requiring the county board to consult with the county  superintendent before entering into a certain agreement; exempting Prince George’s County from certain provisions of law relating to county superintendents; requiring the County Executive to appoint the county superintendent in a certain manner; requiring the county superintendent to serve in the cabinet of the County Executive and at the pleasure of the County  Executive; providing for the qualifications, term of office, reappointment, and  removal of the county superintendent; providing for the compensation, office,  staff, equipment, transportation, reimbursement of certain expenses, and  administration of the office of the county superintendent; establishing the  responsibilities, powers, and duties of the county superintendent; providing for[/box]
Dead FlowersHow can we all get along with this?  I ask because it’s inevitable, I think, that this legislation will pass.  What the County Executive is capitalizing on is the apathy of the majority, much like Kim Jong-Un (North Korea’s apathy is fueled more so by fear then largess).  When I lived in DC, everyone on the block was some kind of activist, even if it was a gardening activist.  They could form a group to keep your nasty dogs and bad kids from trampling their veggies because they saw it as being for the good of the community.  That kind of activism was infectious.  Even if you couldn’t be a full part of the veggie police, you could monitor and report.  Prince George’s County is not that way, not that I’m finding.  Tonia Wellons of Prince George’s County Social Innovation Fund, is a good example of a county resident working to remove partitions and bring people together in this bedroom community we call PGCo.  [box type=”warning”] Bedroom Community: A suburban community/town with little to no major employment center(s) to call its own. People only seem to sleep there when they’re not working 80 Hrs./wk closer in to the city where the jobs are. The only commercial space is retail & services for the residents (banks, groceries, malls, etc.) Residents often choose bedroom communities because of affordablility relative to living closer to the city, lower perceived crime, and schools with students that look just like their kids.[/box]
I have a family friend who had to shadow his son at a Bowie high school because his son was caught on an unsanctioned trip off campus.  During the shadowing, our friend witnessed curse word laden conversations and an impotent teacher with no control of the room.  He was so disturbed that he opted for his son to take the 3 day suspension rather than continue shadowing his son in a classroom where most of the students were doing and saying whatever they wanted.  These students reflect our apathy.  As long as you can go to Grace’s and church and find parking, we’re ok.  Every time we unleash our apathy on the public, we forfeit our right to choice.  Our children are failing in the bedroom community and will continue to do so unless we wake up, get off our largess, and hold ourselves accountable.

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Comments (3)

Interesting post, thanks for your perspective. From one who has always been a “joiner” and an activist, I have to say that only part of the blame lies with we, the people. When someone DOES engage, or tries to engage, on local issues, too often they get beaten down — and in fact, many have stories about being specifically targetted, and even retaliated against, for having the “nerve” to differ. Or maybe the nerve not to spell out “Prince George’s” every time they mean PG.
But I think you’re partly right that the Administration is capitalizing on the lack of engagement (different from apathy). Now they have set up multiple task forces and commissions and committees – so it’s actually not possible for anyone who does real work for a living and HAS children in school, to feel they can keep track of the discussions and changes. Baker keeps saying they are still listening. But most of the people — engaged, thoughtful people — that I know, don’t think that is true.
Mr. Baker and his team have promises not kept within the bounds of the current County Exec’s power. From their perspective, they’ve fixed all the problems in County government I guess and it’s ripe to expand their reach. But from my perspective, the same problems of bureacrats without any sense of respect or service to the public (the voters), plague BOTH County executive branch agencies and the school system. A lot of the discussion I am hearing is asking, if we have not fixed the agencies, what chance is there that we’ll somehow succeed in fixing the schools?
Frankly, people that I trust and respect are telling us that the schools themselves are not in “critical” shape. Yes, there are stories like your friends’, but there are also real achievements, schools leaving the “improvement” program, teachers and principals deeply committed to “their” kids. One thing missing is that Baker hasn’t sought to establish a real concensus. First we had the “Transition Team” with multiple layers and committees; then we had the Accountability Task Force, whose recommendations were rejected (!), now we have a bunch of groups all concerned but without a unified voice about what “problems” need to be solved. Mr. Baker didn’t identify any in the Town Hall. He just believes, I guess, that being “in charge” will magically make everything good. I don’t think most people buy that, but maybe the Delegations do :-(.

Thanks for the shout-out! PGCo is too government dependent and so we will always be in a quandary if this remains the case. I don’t think we should wait for Rushern or anyone else to engage us. We have just as much right to engage ourselves, organize ourselves and move systems. It is a LOT of work, let me tell you. But I believe in citizen action. Government can’t handle all of the issues and opportunities in this community (even IF the County Exec were to take over schools). It’s not possible and successful communities recognize this from jump street. I say it all the time, we have everything in the community to solve our own challenges…we just need to get to it.

Perhaps the apathy of which you speak partly explains the limitations of the school board. At least 40% of the people put some thought into the Executive and Council members we elect (hard to believe a majority did much thinking given the re-election of Jack Johnson). But few people think much about the school board members, so some mediocre people can slip through if they have the right allies.
Ms. Jacobs seems like one, smart committed lady and in spite of conflicts with Mr. Baker, I hope they can learn to cooperate. I would like to see the two of them figure out what it would take for him to appoint her as chairlady for the first two years, because she is probably the right person for the job if she can cooperate with the Executive.
An obvious problem with the County schools is white flight. That is a problem in general, but there are alot of neighborhoods that are maybe 20% white but schools are 1% white. This is a problem that few people feel comfortable even talking about, much less trying to solve. No one really knows whether PG schools **seem** to be the third worst in the state because they **are* the third worst, or simply because the mutually reinforced perception leads enough parents to abandon the school system so that an average school system gets terrible results. But what parent wants to take that chance?
So I’d say: It just doesn’t matter anymore whether the schools are the worst in the state, or the schools are ok but the students are the worst in the state. Someone needs to fix it.

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