Clark County Today Editor Ken Vance offers some thoughts on recent comments made by area educators on social media
I’ve been blessed with many mentors in my 34 years as a journalist. At the top of that list is Marvin Case, who for 31 years was the owner/publisher/editor of The Reflector Newspaper.
One of my favorite memories of my time spent working for Marvin was having discussions about events or issues in our community. For the most part, those discussions centered on whether or not the information was “news.’’ You see, not everything that happens in our community is news. It’s certainly information, but is it information that’s worthy to be shared in print, or in the case of Clark County Today, digitally on our website.
I had an “is it news’’ discussion with our staff here at Clark County Today during our Monday morning staff meeting. The issue at hand was the online comments by an educator in the Evergreen School District that had gone viral over the weekend. I appreciate the fact that so many of you shared the information with us. Once I received it, it became my job to determine whether or not it was “news.’’
I am not a journalist who is obsessed with being first to report news. I strongly believe that it is much more important to deliberate and make good news judgments first before making a knee-jerk reaction, or perhaps an emotional decision. And, when we do decide to report something I determine to be “news,’’ I want us to do so in a careful, perhaps even thoughtful, responsible manner.
So, as the weekend passed, I had worked through the issue of the teacher’s comments in my mind. But, seldom am I ever 100 percent resolute, or rigid, in my news judgment. You see, it’s just that, judgment. It’s not a science. There are no clearly painted lines to operate within. So, I wanted to hear from our staff members. Obviously, I have them on the staff because I respect them and their judgment and wisdom. And, I let them speak first before I shared my thoughts.
It was in that discussion that one of my staff members shared that they were aware of another educator, this one in the Battle Ground School District, who had made a similar comment on social media. Our staff thoughtfully and openly discussed whether or not the information was “news.’’
One staff member stated that they believed it was information the public deserved to be aware of, especially if they had children who attended the school district in question, or more importantly, this educator’s particular school. After all, we’re talking about public education. It’s our tax dollars that are funding these public schools and paying the salaries of these teachers who are openly discussing their biased opinions and beliefs, not to mention their disdain for those who feel differently than they do.
At the end of the discussion, I wasn’t ready to concede that it was truly “news.’’ I’m certainly not surprised there are educators who feel the way these two do. Yes, it is unsettling at best and incredibly stupid at worst, for them to share their bias publicly and in such a hateful way. But, mean people say mean things all the time. People who share my beliefs and ideology are also guilty of that. But, these are public school educators. I do believe it is a little bit different in this case.
So, one of our staff members suggested we share the information in the form of a poll question. Editor’s note: I’ve never placed much importance or news value on poll questions in my career. But, here at Clark County Today, they have really taken on a life of their own. They produce meaningful, thoughtful engagement with our readers and we value that greatly. It is vital to a news organization that its readers are engaged.
The poll question has been live on our website less than 24 hours and almost 1,000 of you have already participated. There has also been tremendous engagement, or comments on the poll.
One comment that resonated with me is someone stated that having your child attend public school isn’t a “right.’’ It is a “privilege.’’ And that if a parent doesn’t want their child in that educator’s classroom, they should just take their child out of the public school and send them to a private school.
Now, I am not a Constitutional scholar, nor am I a professor of law, but our tax dollars fund public education. If sending our children to public schools is a “privilege’’ and not a “right,’’ I need some convincing of that.
The conversation in the thread with the educator in the Battle Ground School District also addressed this theme. And, one commenter pointed out that if a parent elects to remove their child from a public school, for this or virtually any other reason, they should have the right to take the thousands of tax dollars with them that the school district receives from the state to educate that child and use it on the education of their choice. I’ve agreed with that premise for years.
Not only have I been blessed to have had many great mentors in my 34 years as a journalist, but I was also blessed to have many great educators during my formative years. I am a product of the public school system, a proud product of Carson Elementary School and graduate of Wind River Middle School and Stevenson High School — all in the Stevenson-Carson School District.
I am also blessed to still be in contact with many of those educators who helped guide me through those early years. They are among the most special people in my life. I have to say, I never once endured or witnessed the bias, venom and vitriol that the two Clark County educators were caught sharing on social media in recent days. In my K-12 years, I knew what being a Democrat or Republican was. I was aware that some folks were Christians and non-believers. But, I can’t remember having any awareness of ideology, be it liberal or conservative.
I’ve never hidden in this space that on most issues I can be considered conservative. And, I will never apologize for it. I will also never suggest you should believe what I believe. I’m completely at peace with you making up your own mind and sticking to your own beliefs. I’ve said before, my dad taught me, “what happens in our neighbor’s yard is none of our business and what happens in our yard is none of theirs.’’ I live by that motto.
So, as I was being educated as a youth, I was aware I had teachers who saw the world differently than I did, but it was never made an issue by them, or by me. In fact, as a result of the recent comments by the Clark County educators, I reached out to one of my favorite teachers over the weekend. We don’t talk about it very often, but he and I are on complete opposite ends of the ideological spectrum. I knew it in high school, but I’ve obviously become even more aware of it since. I told him that I just wanted him to know how much I appreciated that he never tried to tell me what to think, he just always challenged me to think. Isn’t that what every educator should do?
Situations like this current information about the comments by the Clark County educators continue to evolve. As it does, I will continue to monitor it and I will continue to ask myself if it qualifies as “news.’’ At least one news organization has already determined it is “news.’’
If one of the school districts in question, takes disciplinary action against one of the educators, then that is definitely “news.’’ I think a case can be made that if the districts choose to do nothing, that may also qualify as “news.’’
My son attended private elementary school. It was important to me that he receive that foundation for his education. He had a wonderful experience at King’s Way Christian School as an elementary student. His mother and I were then comfortable having him attend public middle and high schools. By that time, even if he did encounter influences that we were not comfortable with, we felt our son was confident and secure enough to stand firmly on his own beliefs and not be influenced by others in a negative way.
I have to say, in light of the educators’ recent comments, if my son were entering his K-12 years today, I’m confident that I would have a different viewpoint on where he should spend his formative years.