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Monday, June 21, 2010
I'd Like to Keep Being Spoiled

Not all of my elected representatives spoil me. Tim Osborn of the Alpine School Board does. I'd like to keep him there.

I freely admit that I am spoiled by Tim Osborn, my Alpine School Board representative. To explain, I must first complain.


Sometimes it seems as if the whole public education establishment was raised -- dare I say enculturated? -- to believe that almost every problem in public education springs either from inadequate funding or inadequate parenting. (Some problems do, I admit.)

Too often they seem to believe that, by virtue of their education degrees and experience, they automatically know better in educational matters than any of the students' parents, no matter how good or experienced the parents or how impressive those parents' educational or professional credentials. (I could agree with often or sometimes.)

They seem instinctively to consider themselves wiser on all points of education policy than the combined wisdom of the voters or of that superior body of elected representatives, the state legislature. (I would grant some.)

When there are differences, they often seem persuaded that anyone who disagrees with them does so because he or she cares less about children, society, or education. (This is rarely true, if ever.)

On a bad day, these attitudes lead them to believe that parents and constituents who disagree must be ignored, placated, hookwinked, or discredited, depending on their persistence. (This may occasionally be justified, but it is, as a rule, an inappropriate attitude for an employee or an elected representative to have towards the employer or the voters.)

Too often they forget themselves and declare that they cannot worry about a single student's needs, because they have 50,000 students about whom they must worry. (They have a small point here, too, but ponder this question sometime: If there is no one student about which they worry, how can they worry about more than one student, let alone 50,000?)

Maybe some educational establishment insiders really aren't caught up in this groupthink, but simply value everyone getting along more than they value the pursuit of excellence and the defense of sound principles. Getting along isn't bad in itself; it's just that it often leads to satisfaction with mediocrity -- and generations are harmed.

The funny thing is, I think others' Alpine School Board members mean well, care about children, etc. It's not that they're bad or malevolent people. They're not necessarily less intelligent than anyone else, either. They just know best. When you know best, you don't listen very well, and you're disinclined to take seriously the dissenting views or even the serious questions of others. You might even do something outlandish, like claim publicly that thousands of parents concerned over an ineffective math curriculum are just a small group of malcontents.


My Alpine School Board representative, Tim Osborn, is as smart as any of the others. He cares as much about children, teachers, and parents. But he likes to listen to his constituents, even when they disagree, and he likes to study and discuss and debate. It's as if he somehow learned that, if he did these things persistently, he would actually learn things; this is the opposite of "knowing best." He likes to ask crucial questions which many others prefer to avoid. If the present level of funding is inadequate, what level would be adequate? Why do so many Alpine School District graduates get good grades in math, but have to take remedial math when they get to UVU? Is there some way to do more with less, rather than always needing more in order to do more?

Some, including at least one of Tim's opponents and some of the other board members, apparently think that Tim doesn't always play well with others. They see this as a good reason for the voters to replace him, either tomorrow or in November. I interpret the same evidence differently: Tim remembers that he was elected primarily to represent the people to the School Board, not to represent the School Board to the people. Tim's answer to the same charge, that he's sometimes not a "team player," is much the same: "I'm proud of that. It means I'm doing my job." This response resonated very well with the audience at a recent debate in American Fork, I noticed.

Tim is so eager to hear others' ideas and refine his own that he made an appointment to come visit me and my wife a few months ago. When we decided at the last minute that we needed to paint the kitchen that evening, he was perfectly content to come and spend the evening with us anyway, sitting in our torn-up kitchen, watching paint dry and talking about schools and teachers and students and other subjects of mutual interest. We've chatted at greater or lesser length on other occasions, virtually and in person. The cumulative effect of all this is that I feel very well represented on the Alpine School Board. Maybe I have a right to expect that feeling, as a voter, but I'm somewhat unaccustomed to it, so it makes me feel a little spoiled.

Minority Influence

Tim is often in the minority on the Board on significant issues. Sometimes he's a minority of one, as his peers seem wont to remind him, though he's found a couple of board members who will sometimes listen to him. It's been that way for four years. I asked him today what he decided to do to make himself useful, despite being (in) the minority. He said,

One of the things that I learned to do was to be quiet but helpful where needed. You can see that with my work as a Band Dad with the AFHS Marching Band. As I would help either with the parents or with the schools, I would quietly speak with the parents, teachers, principals and administrators about the issues that we face at this time. While they wouldn't necessarily agree, they would be accepting and understanding, which goes a long ways. It softens the thoughts and helps with the dialog.

I told him that a state legislator I know said the other day that Tim is the only member of the Alpine School District who is consistently willing to work with and talk to the state legislature, to listen, to consider and discuss the issues, and to answer their questions. There's a lot of hostility in the education establishment toward the legislature; I'm pleased that my representative on the school board, at least, has cultivated a mature working relationship with those other elected representatives.

I asked Tim what he has managed to accomplish despite being so frequently in the minority. Among other things he listed allowing schools to choose their math curriculum, rather than enforcing it from the district level, an accomplishment from early in his term. He explained that there are times when the board is working on the wording of some policy, and he is able to get words and phrases "changed to reflect a more 'balanced' approach rather than the standard liberal educational verbage."

All this is an excellent short lesson in being effective while in the legislative minority.

Why More?

My final question to him today was, "Tell me again, why do you want to do this for four more years?" He said he feels able to help and therefore obligated to help. He thinks he is helping, and he wants to keep doing it.

I think he's helping, too, and I want him to keep doing it. I like being spoiled.

I have no control over who runs and how voters vote in the other areas of the Alpine School District. I have no control over how Tim's other constituents will vote. But I hope that I can continue being spoiled, and I hope that, after the November election, Tim won't be the only board member who makes parents and voters feel well represented, and who has the reputation of being willing to work and communicate with the state legislature.

I respectfully suggest that a primary vote tomorrow for Tim Osborn would be good for the students who attend the schools, the parents who support them, and the taxpayers who fund the whole effort.

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