In her frustration at being required to attend school board meetings with the rest of the members, remote resident Michelle Capozzoli — excuse me, Michelle Capozzoli Ph.D. — has called out the troops in the Chamber of Commerce that she regards as her primary constituency. School board members who declined to allow her to continue voting in electronic absentia are now being inundated with emails from her supporters, each of whom uses suspiciously similar language to voice “disagreement” with their decision. Without the bother of going out to a meeting, and without much risk of identifying themselves or their businesses publicly, they hope (as she clearly hopes) to harass and intimidate the school board into reversing a fundamentally sound decision.
The medium in which this campaign is being waged is the medium in which such powerful factions like to operate, keeping their business out of the public eye with emails warning that further distribution might violate some vague confidentiality proscription. That’s the modus operandi of Conway’s secret government, which I’ve lately heard characterized as the Mount Washington Valley Cartel — a coalition consisting of the Chamber of Commerce and a few other nonprofit coadjutors headquartered in the Tech Village. The cartel evidently aims to control Conway’s destiny from boardrooms, using our political bodies for the public ratification of private decisions rather than as conduits for open debate. Those with enough funds to drop a sawbuck at the door are allowed to come listen to speakers chosen by the cartel for the evident purpose of promoting its agenda, but their most decisive meetings are generally considered nonpublic.
The real pressure to allow Ms. Capozzoli to “attend” school board meetings via Skype seems to come from those who think she will vote the way they want. In her broadcast email complaint she remarked, inaccurately, that there were “no compelling arguments” for denying her virtual attendance. Meanwhile, the only objective argument I’ve heard in favor of that dangerous precedent is that we have entered the 21st century, with its plethora of technological possibilities. By parroting that chronological fact, Capozzoli allies like fellow board member Joe Lentini, must hope to persuade the more traditional board members that a couple of centuries’ worth of political principles are now obsolete.
Ms. Capozzoli herself makes that myopic argument, contending that various forms of remote electronic “attendance” are customary now in professional circles; some of her supporters say the same thing in exactly the same words — thereby suggesting the source of their regurgitated opinions. The introduction of private business practices into the conduct of the public’s business is an old and insidious evil that has facilitated much corruption and created debilitating disaffection with (and mistrust of) government. Simply because something can be done doesn’t mean that it should be done.
If one member were allowed to Skype in from an undisclosed location, a la Dick Cheney, then the others would presumably enjoy that same consideration. Try to imagine the confusion to those in the audience if three or four members of a public board showed up on different screens, or appeared serially on the same screen. Then consider what would happen if the only members who could make a meeting were those communicating via Skype. At that point, the official discussion of public affairs would be disguised entirely from those without the necessary electronic equipment. Since the meeting would have no specific venue, the general public would not be able to attend. Even if the school district provided a room for remote screening of the proceedings, the public could not comment, ask questions, or participate in any meaningful way.
Accepting the Lentini-Capozzoli contention about the practicality and propriety of using Skype as a vehicle for official political discourse is not that different from admitting that our traditional educational model of classroom teaching is obsolete. Why support innumerable school buildings with legions of teachers, custodians, cooks and adjunct administrators, and maintain fleets of buses, only to either cancel everything or cut a $190,000 school day in half for two or three inches of snow. Just let the kiddies stay home every day, safe and sound. Hundreds of them could turn to their computers and absorb the wisdom of a single teacher, or follow the instructions of a software program unrepresented by a labor union.
If direct human interaction is no longer necessary or desirable in deciding questions of deep public interest, then it is certainly not necessary in the field of education. Most teachers who acquire advanced degrees now do so through online courses that are allegedly as rigorous and effective as those offered in a classroom setting. Even if that did not undermine National Education Association claims about the importance of the classroom teacher to the educational process, the pro-Skype argument of certain Conway School Board members would.
William Marvel lives in South Conway.
- Category: Letters