Monday, February 26, 2007

Seeking Civilized Discourse


It's been interesting to read articles in the Daily Pilot over the weekend about events of concern to our good neighbors over in Newport Beach. They are still dealing with the issue of just where to build their much-needed new City Hall and now the fate of the Banning Ranch oil field has jumped into the headlines again. The former involves a controversy over 12 acres near the current Main Library which is, in my humble opinion, the perfect spot for the new City Hall. The second involves more than 400 acres on the bluff overlooking the Santa Ana River and West Newport, the plans for which range from lots of houses, a combination of houses and park space or purely park land.

I contrast this with Costa Mesa's current "land" issues. At the last council meeting that body approved the acquisition of nearly two acres contiguous to a current park on the Eastside and, it is assumed from the comments made, plans to have that entire area become a park. And, there is still the steady drum beat from so-called "improvers" to raze apartment buildings around town - displacing the Latino residents - and turn those locations into parks, too.

I was interested in the way Newport Beach residents handle their comments attached to the articles in the Daily Pilot. In the recent past many of the Costa Mesa-related articles have had many comment threads that resembled school yard shouting matches. Not so in the case of our good neighbors. One article regarding architect and yachtsman Bill Ficker's most recent proposal for the use of that 12 acre plot as a combination City Hall/Park generated more than 60 comments - most of which were generally well thought-out and clearly presented. One fella, undeterred by the 100 word maximum, posted 6 consecutive comments to make his points - and did so quite effectively. A companion article emphasizing the "park" aspect of the space in opposition to a city hall being considered for that plot generated 11 comments, most of which were calm, reasonable responses. An accompanying editorial by the Daily Pilot also had 11 comments as I type this, each of similar thoughtful nature. So far, not a single "zinger" attempting to defame a previous viewpoint, unlike so many of the comments posted on the Costa Mesa-oriented articles recently. No personal attacks on other commenters, just clear, thoughtful viewpoints expressed with passion.

I make that observation because it seems that our good neighbors in Newport Beach, even though issues are many times quite polarizing, somehow manage to maintain a level of decorum in their debate that seems unattainable, or at least forgotten, in Costa Mesa. That's a real shame, too, because there appears to be a new group of voices trying to be heard in my town, but they are continually "shouted down" by folks who have strong allegiances to the "improvers". It reminds me of the actions of one of that mob who attempted to stifle a demonstrator in the city council chambers last year as she sung the words to "We Shall Overcome". This guy is a rabid "improver" who, as he scrambled across the auditorium to get in her face like some berserk chimpanzee, tried to drown her out by screaming the words to "God Bless America" at the top of his lungs. It was shameful and actually pretty darn funny. This guy and his peers seem less inclined to frame a reasonable argument, preferring instead to attempt to discourage differing views by using spiteful invective and overwhelming volume - a literary spitting match.

I long for the return to civility in discourse in our city. I long for the time when divergent viewpoints would be considered and debated by mature people who had only the best interests of my city in mind without degenerating into personal attacks. I long for the days when political operatives from national parties didn't try to use our city as a farm team, and exercise their influence over elections and subsequent political appointments. I miss the good old days, when local politicians were not influenced by those among us with a not-so-transparent radical racial agenda. Yes, I'll say it - I long for the return to reason in our city.

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12 Comments:

Anonymous Chris Bunyan said...

Very good. Well written.

2/26/2007 10:49:00 PM  
Anonymous watchur6 said...

About your blog: Your constant talk of improvers being anti Latino is nauseating. It is blatant stereotyping and is one of the reasons that "return to reason" was smashed in the last elections. It is amazing how out of touch you are with reality and sad how your anger at improvers causes you to spew forth such divisive rhetoric. Your speculation about our motives for our various decisions is so off base it is frightening. You are trying to start some sort of class/race war in our city. My head spins at what I read here sometimes. I cannot comprehend how your mind works and how you come up with such,well..crap! And bunyan likes it? WOW.

2/27/2007 07:52:00 AM  
Blogger The Pot Stirrer said...

Dear Watchur6,

You're nauseated?! You should be at this end, watching what the "improvers" do as they systematically eliminate anything in this city that might, somehow, provide support or comfort for Latinos - legal or illegal!

The reality is painful, isn't it? The truth hurts. I've chronicled the things that have been done in the name of "improvement" over the past few years several times and don't intend to re-hash it again here at this time. I'm not surprised hearing about it makes you sick - it should! It's a revolting, sickening, methodical bit of social engineering, orchestrated by a guy who is undeniably a racist.

Yes, I understand that the "improvement movement" began as an honest concern by a few angry, frustrated Westside residents who wanted to make their neighborhoods "nicer" - to return to the good old days. That's commendable and I'm sure your goals were pure. However, your "movement" has become infected by the rhetoric of one guy - a persuasive speaker and writer - who somehow managed to convince you that the solution to all the problems on the Westside was the expunging of every brown face from our city. I'm sure you don't like to hear that, but if you're honest about it you cannot deny what has happened. Just step back and take a look at it, if you can.

I'm sorry what you read here upsets you. I'm sure you're probably more comfortable over on the CM Press, where the author panders to the worst side of human nature. I suspect you've more comfortable reading his essays on the New Nation News and the National Vanguard web sites, where he bemoans the demise of the white race and the evolution of "Tan Everyman". I certainly don't want you to be offended by reading what I write but, since I'm not going to stop writing, I suggest you simply stop reading it. No one forces you to visit this site, although I'm glad you choose to participate. But, if it makes you nauseous, please stop before you barf on your keyboard.

I'm glad Chris Bunyan enjoyed reading this post. Those darn young people - just no accounting for their taste, is there? I suspect there might be one or two others, as well.

Adios, compadre. It's be fun.

2/27/2007 08:28:00 AM  
Anonymous watchur6 said...

adios, will not read this anymore. Again, you have it all wrong. Improvers are not run by the man you claim we are. But why should I even try to convince you. There is no hope and, heck, you and your kind just play into our hands come election time. Keep it up! You will soon just be preachin' to the choir (of what, 20 people?). Adios.

2/27/2007 09:49:00 AM  
Blogger The Pot Stirrer said...

And so, off into the sunset floats our old pal, Watchur6. As we watch his "6" drift toward the horizon we know that, while he might not write again, he'll be reading, just to see what I might say about his beloved "improvers". I just hope he takes dramamine well in advance, to avoid that nausea. His antagonism will be missed.

2/27/2007 09:59:00 AM  
Blogger Claudio said...

Coming today at 2 PM- CONFESSIONS OF A WESTSIDE IMPROVER PART 1. A former Improver tells all to Orange Juice. You can read it at http://o-juice.blogspot.com

2/27/2007 10:08:00 AM  
Anonymous Rob Dickson said...

We need more civilized discourse. We have real problems here, and the extremes of both sides of the various debates only hinder all progress.

The Westside has long-established industrial and commercial enterprises that contribute much-needed jobs and taxes to Costa Mesa's economy. The many marine industries are vital to our economy, and would be sorely missed. Where else would they go? Fontana? that would work. Their rights as owners and stakeholders should trump so-called "improvers" who want to build up-scale housing and who have tried everything to get rid of the existing owners. Why would any property owner ever sit down with someone who is literally trying to destroy their livelihood and steal their property? The middle ground attempt - Westside Revitalization Oversight Committee - has also been attacked, and that debate has fallen victim to the poisonous invective of a certain few.

We also have the illegal immigration debate. This one is particularly tough, because one side holds a losing deck of cards, and no amount of spin, rhetoric, or passion can alter that fact. That side is the illegal side, and they lose because they are here illegally. The other side has many different components - some extreme, some not. Illegal or not, the "brown" people are people and should not be compared to swamp creatures. How do we bring civilized discourse to this issue? Well, that ball is up in the air. The illegal side needs to stop demanding that we just accept the total disregard for our laws, while the anti-illegals need to realize that mass deportation won't work. That is a pretty wide chasm, and it shows no signs of being bridged. Meanwhile, the politics of race dominate, while some of our schools fail as we stand around pointing fingers and wringing our hands. It's gotten so bad that one risks being branded a racist for merely pointing out that the almost total lack of English proficiency at some schools and the almost criminal parental apathy may be a significant part of the problem.

Let's face it - no one wants to sit down and have a rational conversation (civilzed discourse) with someone who uses spiteful invective and overwhelming volume, I sure don't.

We are where we are because of the extremes on both sides. BOTH SIDES, not just the "improvers" and "minions" of Your Neighbor. Stop listening to them and attempt to work together and we may return to rationality and civilzed discourse. I think that the vast majority of Costa Mesans are sitting this one out because they don't want to wade into the maelstrom that Costa Mesa politics has become.

2/27/2007 11:07:00 AM  
Anonymous DVS said...

It is disturbing to me that a significant percentage of those that posted responses to school related articles in the Daily Pilot seem to believe that the entire problems with Costa Mesa schools are due to illegal immigration.

The comments that many have made are horrific and have no place in civil discussions of community issues. I would hope that readers of your article take this opportunity to look back at their posts and ask themselves if they contributed to the conversation in a productive and polite way or if they were just shouting to be hurtful.

2/27/2007 11:36:00 AM  
Anonymous Rob Dickson said...

DVS,

As has been pointed out in other forums, the irrefutable fact of the matter is that the three failing schools have a very high percentage (as high as 93%) of Latino students who have a very tough time passing the standardized exams. Two of the three schools had only 19% of their students pass the tests. That places the entire dictrict in the crosshairs of No Child left Behind.

What is truly damaging to the schools and the entire community is the complete refusal of people to just accept the fact that - illegal or not, kids need to SPEAK AND READ ENGLISH to succeed in school. Avoiding the problem and labeling discussion of the problem as having "no place in civil discussions of community issues" only perpetuates the problem. The parents and the schools need to make English proficiency their top priority - and the schools can't do it alone.

How can the community help these kids when their own parents won't? Does the community, who funds these schools, have no say in these issues? The worst thing is that the kids themselves are suffering the most by not getting the eduaction they need, because the adults are too busy avoiding resposnibility and playing the blame game.

2/27/2007 11:58:00 AM  
Anonymous dvs said...

Dear Mr. Dickson,
Do you believe that the following quotes have a place in civil discussion?
“English is not spoken at home, and it is a perfect example of how illegal immigration leads to the destruction of our society. With no desire to assimilate into mainstream US culture, they simply want us to change to accommodate them. Yes, it is Us vs. Them, and the legal citizens are NOT the ones who have made it that way. We bend over backwards to accommodate these students and get contempt and total apathy in return. Enough!!!"
“Lets get rid of those darn engish speaking principals who can't communicate with the illegals who won't learn english. Good idea , beats the heck out of getting rid of the illegals who broke the law, Damn that bad principal for not leaning to communicate with the law breakers!!!! Your right, lets cater to the illegals, they don't get enough already lets give them more... Dr Navarro how about Dr. Deportation, now that’s REFORM...."
“Let us forget about assimilation and hand over all control to Mexicans. Why not they seem to dictate the control of the education anyhow, it works for me!"
These are from just one thread and include some very inflammatory comments when the discussion is about school age children. There was another thread that had even uglier comments, but alas, that one is now in archive and beyond my reach at the moment. These are just two threads that I recall and I have certainly not read all of the threads that are posted.

How could the authors of these comments have been more civil? I would submit that they could have achieved the same goal in communicating their points without using broad generalization and sarcasm. Statements such as “US vs. Them”, “We bend over backwards to accommodate these students and get contempt and total apathy in return”, “Lets get rid of those darn engish speaking principals who can't communicate with the illegals who won't learn english”, ““Let us forget about assimilation and hand over all control to Mexicans”.

Certainly, these authors are expressing their frustration with what they perceive as failed federal policies and a subset of our local population that have exploited said failure. How does that move the discussion of school failures forward? I would submit it does not help at all. The real question then becomes, how could these authors move the discussion forward in a productive way? Well, I suggest that they help find solutions that they can embrace, not complaints that build walls between them and their neighbors.

Do you think that the authors of these statements do believe that all of the students that are having difficulty are illegal immigrants or children of illegal immigrants? How tragic that they have been led down that path without tangible evidence. I have yet to see a report that quantifies the percentage of students in each of the Costa Mesa Schools that identifies that information.

What I do find are the following numbers reported by the district for CMHS, for instance:
African American 2.7%
Hispanic or Latino 48.7%
American Indian or Alaska Native 0.3%
Pacific Islander 2.6%
Asian 10.0%
White (Not Hispanic) 33.8%
Filipino 1.8%

Not one mention of residency status.

What percentage of the 48.7% is here without authorization from the federal government? Even if we knew that, how would that help us improve the education in our schools now? The federal government does not tell us it is OK to ignore them. On the contrary, they will certainly hold us in this district accountable for educating them. How is that best accomplished? By complaining about them? No. Complain about immigration policy to your federal representatives; that may be useful in the long term. Help solve the local problem in the short term.

I believe adults should be held to higher standards of civility and decorum. You and I included. I will continue to work to that goal myself, will you Mr. Dickson?

2/27/2007 03:06:00 PM  
Anonymous Rob Dickson said...

DVS,

As the author of the first statement that you quoted, I wanted to clarify the context. That post was limited by the Pilot to 100 words and was followed up by the my next post:

"The schools have no choice in educating these kids. If the parents won't learn English, and encourage English proficiency, then the schools must step in. Non-English speaking students should be put in classes that focus solely on an English-learner curriculum until they are proficient in English and are able to join the rest of the student body. We MUST stop failing our kids by forcing them to sit idle in class while the teachers spend all their time attempting to teach Non-English proficient students. This isn't politics, it is our kids' future. Wake up!"

The Us vs. Them was in response to earlier posts about gang and racial intimidation of white students by Latino students, and the other posts suggesting that NMUSD get rid of a principal because he could not effectively communicate with the parents of his student body because they do not speak English.

It is very important to note that "we" DO bend over backward to accomodate non-English speaking students, and we are met with apathy towards learning and speaking English at school and in the home. Other posts on this blog and on the Pilot alleged that Latino parents were very uninvolved in their children's education, while someone claiming to be a retired teacher stated the following:

"I feel that many illegal immigrant parents just view the school as the “babysitter” from 8am-3pm for while they are at work. Most of these students are so far behind that they realize they will never be able to get caught-up academically and then they just turn in to discipline problems for the teacher and staff."

This is what I am referring to when I use the term "apathy" and I stand behind it. If calling out apathetic parents helps spur some sort of reversal of that apathy, then it is a positive statement. The schools are full of bright and dedicated educators who deserve better than being relegated to baby sitter status.

I know, as you very effectively point out, that we have no idea how many NMUSD students are here in violation of federal immigration laws. I think that a common assumption among "legal" citizens is that someone living here who cannot speak English is mostly likely here illegally, as it is common knowledge that a large number of illegal immigrants live in Costa Mesa. That assumption may be unfair and innaccurate, so I see where you are coming from. All Latinos in Costa Mesa are not illegal immigrants, and lumping all Latinos together in such a way is reprehensible and totally innappropriate. I have always spoken against illegal immigration - never against Latinos.

As stated in this and other forums, NMUSD is not allowed to ask about citizenship status, and must educate every child within its geographical boundaries. How to best do that does need civil discourse - on that I agree with you 100%.

How do you reach out to the parents whose kids are educationally getting short-changed because critical resources are consumed attempting to be "fair" to non-English proficient students? Keeping these students in regular classes is, in my opinion, a disservice to everyone involved, and the statements you quoted are a reflection of extreme frustration with a ridiculous situation. I am a graduate of NMUSD, and these issues were non-existent then. It is tough for parents to be civil when their kids come home with tales of intimidation, racial slurs, and graffitti. This appears to be isolated to certain high schools, and that was the context of the Pilot postings you quote - at least as I see it.

Therein lies the central theme of your post, I believe. Adults should be civil in the face of such issues, otherwise the problem only gets more entrenched as everyone retreats behind their barricades.

So how to deal with the elephant in the middle of Costa Mesa's living room - illegal immigration? It has no place in the pure context of education, as it is literally irrelevant from a legal and policy standpoint. However, it does factor in because of the polarization of the community. "Us vs. Them" is divisive by nature, yet many people ask that question, whether they care to admit it or not. That is clearly evident by all the anonymous posts. For example - Why can't they (them) be more like us when it comes to the education of their children? The perception that Latino parents are uninvolved needs to be addressed - I'm not sure how to accomplish that.

When the main issue is language, that cuts deep into societal identity and is taken very personally. It is deeply offensive to attack someone's language and culture by demanding that the school administrators speak a foreign language because the parents won't learn the host language. I would hope that you can see that side of this issue, and understand where the frustration and hostility comes from. Of course, there must be bi-lingual educators and administrators, as learning any new language is difficult and time consuming - and there must be a way to communicate with all parents. As I have stated before, the focus should be on learning English, not refusing to do so and expecting to be accomodated in a foreign language.

All of that aside, I must absolutely agree with you. Regardless of how we got here, and the frustrations that are boiling over with the current state of affairs, simply regurgitating all the wrongs (real or perceived) on all sides will do nothing to fix the situation in the schools. I would hope that airing all this out will lead to a mutual understanding of positions and eventual constructive compromise. I think that the educational establishment needs to know how frustrated everyone is so that they come up with real solutions.

Geoff's blog has been a great place for the exchange of ideas, and I post here because I care about this city and want everyone living here to find a common ground. I think turmoil in the schools is incredibly detrimental to the kids and the community. The Daily Pilot posts you quoted were expressions of frustration from people who care enough to read the paper and comment on the issues - the theme is pretty consistent. They certainly could have been more civil, though I don't think they were incredibly outrageous.

I agree that civility and decorum are necessary to make progress. Hopefully we'll see more in the future. I will certainly work toward that goal.

Thank you for your reply, your point is very well taken.

2/27/2007 07:04:00 PM  
Anonymous dvs said...

Dear Mr. Dickson,

It encourages me that you and Mr. Bose are committed to open, respectful and positive communications on these thorny issues. I probably don’t share your views that residents of our city that have not followed the letter of US Immigration laws are detrimental to our community as a whole, but I definitely do agree that a big part of our communities problem is a difference in values.

You and I probably do agree that we should be able to feel comfortable that we are sending our children to the best schools and we certainly would have a difficult time coming to that conclusion based on API scores. I am in agreement that language is a barrier. I am also in agreement that parental involvement is a significant indicator of a students anticipated success in school.

So based on my non-scientific assessment, if all students were fluent in English and all parents were more involved, we would have award winning schools. Seems simple enough to me, but then I have the luxury of speaking English as a native language and a job that affords me enough income to support school activities as well as allowing me to take time off to stay involved.

I can not expect all parents to be so fortunate. So how do we fix the problem? I could move to Newport Beach. I certainly have the resources to do that, but my wife and I have resisted moving because we like our neighborhood and our house and our neighbors, not to mention the disposable income that a house we have lived in for over 20 years affords.

We could take Millard’s approach and run all non-English speaking and low income families out of Costa Mesa. That approach is very un-Christian-like and, frankly, morally reprehensible in my view. So the only solution I see is to supplement the shortcomings of these students environment while educating their parents on the benefits of doing all they can to support the community that is working so hard to raise their child’s educational standing.

Is that a free ride at our expense? Yes, I am afraid I can’t make a silk purse out of that sow’s ear. Is it the right thing to do? I think so, but this is where we may certainly part ways. My question is this; is there an approach that would be more suitable to you and Mr. Bose? If we can compromise on an acceptable solution that is realistic given the constraints of federal and state education laws, then let’s talk to Dr. Hubbard and propose it.

Again, thank you for your interest in continuing a productive dialog. It encourages me that even if I am in the minority of my Republican Party and community that there are reasonable people in the majority that can listen to a contrary point of view and discuss it without being mean spirited.

2/28/2007 11:01:00 AM  

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