When To Walk Away

One of my worst character traits is that I am unable to stop persuading people that I am right about something and that they should like me. When people disagree with me, I think that I simply haven’t explained things well and if I only just explain again using better words, they will see the logic of my argument and want to be my best friend.

This sort of reasoning often leads to one’s head banging up against a brick wall.  Unpleasant, indeed. I had two instances like that yesterday. I’ll tell you about one.

So, the school district commissioned a report on the special education system in town and found it lacking. After living in this town for six years, I have 100s of anecdotes from our own experiences or others that go beyond the scope of the report. Let’s just say that there are kids in dark places in the school building who are being babysat and not taught.

Now, my kid isn’t one of those kids. He’s in a really nice school. Whatever that other school doesn’t provide, I do. I hire tutors. I drive him to activities. I connect with other parents to find the best programs for him. I would like the district to provide him with extra reading help and after school activities, but in the whole scope of things, he’s okay.

So, while my kid is fine, others aren’t. So, I keep opening my mouth and complaining at school board meetings in front of cameras. That doesn’t make me popular with local school leaders. And it doesn’t benefit my kid. I really need to stop talking, but I can’t. Incompetence and inequity drives me crazy. Like I said, it’s a character flaw.

Alright, let me hint at problem number two that led to further head banging yesterday. So, I have a good story about an urban school district. I know it’s a good story, but I’m having a hard time convincing other people that it’s a good story.

One of the issues, I think, is that it is about urban schools. So, I’ve been writing about education for six years now. If I write about middle class suburban parent issues — School sports: Good or Bad? School Report Cards Suck: A Plan to Get Rid of Them — I get lots of hits and links on Facebook. If I write about city schools, there are crickets. No love whatsoever.

Why don’t people care about city schools and the millions of children that are educated there? I suppose it’s for the same reason that it took so long for people to care about the lead in the water in Flint, Michigan. Those kids look different from the middle class people, who read the articles in the magazines that I write for. They are far away. Their problems are different. And their problems seem too monumental to change. People don’t want to read sad stuff.

But I’m really committed to telling this story about city kids, so I’m going to do a little PT Barnum on it and keep selling and selling and selling. Because that’s what I do.

14 thoughts on “When To Walk Away

  1. Keep pushing and don’t give up. You’re making change happen. Think about how you’ll feel 40 years from now, looking back and knowing that you made a difference in people’s lives, people who couldn’t advocate for themselves. Now that’s a legacy!


  2. That’s really sad that nobody wants to listen about city schools!! 😦 I agree that it’s an important issue and that you need to continue to pursue it. Like Wendy said, we’re behind you 100% Hey, so… do you have a new job or something? (just nosy & curious). Did the renovations start? I hope that goes well.


  3. There are articles published about city schools. The Atlantic had a piece about Eva Moskowitz and charter schools very recently. Not sure what makes an article publishable, however. Also, I don’t know how many people read the article in question.


  4. In “Britt-Marie was here” the author, Backman, describes a Liverpool football supporter as someone who “always f-ing thinks [they] can turn anything around.”. That’s kind of the opposite of walking away and we desperately need people who won’t walk away. Especially for school concerns, we need people who are in the fight for the long haul, fighting for other people’s kids because it’s hard to fight the big battles when you’re in the midst of making sure that your own kid is OK.

    So, yes, keep on keeping on. You know it’s not a character flaw. But, also take care of your self and don’t stay up all, every night because there’s something wrong with the world that needs to be fixed.


  5. As a city school parent, I’ll be fascinated when you get the story published. I think the city high school my kids went to has been fantastic for them and for lots of their classmates, and I also think it is in many ways a flaming garbage fire rolling downhill in a broken shopping cart. So, I am very ready to hear both that there are huge problems with city schools and that they can be kind of great, whichever story you’re writing.


  6. Our own public schools seem to fall in the “urban” bucket due to demographics (70% minority; 70% free/reduced lunch) but our MidWest city has only 250K population, so it doesn’t feel “urban” to me.

    I hope you keep pushing on your story – Very few of my coworkers/friends send their kids to the local public schools – instead move to suburbs or live in the pockets of our city with whiter/richer demographics. But, like elizardbreath mentioned above, the high-poverty schools have been fantastic for my kids. (…and yet function on a fraction of the resources available to the richer suburban schools.)

    School integration (or lack thereof) is a fascinating topic to me right now. I made the mistake of commenting about our good experience on an article on integration on the Citylab website and was told that I am a femme-nazi and akin to a child abuser and am setting up my children to be brutally attacked. So, I look forward to your article! (Although I have learned my lesson on trying to be a voice of reason on article internet comments!)


  7. I just read your “How Hard Do Professors Actually Work” article, and, you are so good at writing those articles. I look forward to more research on work hours on the sample (a topic I’ve always found very interesting, and that we have better tools, than self-report) to address the question now. And, professors might be exactly the sample that would give up their privacy to answer the question.

    But, going back to the compliment, there are a (very few) writers who I read and think, oh, I’m learning something I didn’t know; this makes sense; this is interesting, this hasn’t been edited into compliance with some clickbait goal or forced into some editor’s view of a story; . . . . The other author I can name right now is Blaine Harden (WashPost writer, “Escape from Camp 14”, most recently). I hope you get to keep on writing these kinds of articles.


    1. O wow, a new Laura McKenna article! It’s like when Rumours came out. If that was announced here, I missed it.


    2. oh, thank you, thank you. Honestly, I rushed this together in 24 hours, which included two rounds of edits. I just loved that I could include the word “wanker” in an article. My goals are never lofty.


      1. Laura said,

        “Honestly, I rushed this together in 24 hours, which included two rounds of edits.”

        That’s the beauty of writing on a subject you know about.


  8. SI Hayakawa, some things you give you a fellow feeling for the guy “S.I. “Don” Hayakawa was undone by a combination of his own limitations and by events beyond his control. He had a kind of hubris; his son Alan said S.I.H. could never understand why everyone didn’t agree with him if he was given a chance to explain his position. He also put all his eggs in the general semantics basket, and they ended up broken due to lack of acceptance in the academic mainstream. The success of his first book made him famous but limited his academic options, and his term in the Senate revealed flaws that bordered on caricature.”


    1. And (I learn from wikipedia) he opposed all-digital telephone exchanges. When I was a boy, we had first MUrray Hill 7 and then ORegon 3. My wife had the tonier PLaza 5. (BUtterfield 8 would be even tonier.) All gone now.


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