Letter: School Committee’s Attempt To Silence Critic Sets Poor Example For Our Students


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Regional School Committee member Peter Demling has invented a new policy and wants to “remind” member Jennifer Shiao about it.  His policy says that after the committee has voted, dissenters from the majority vote are silenced and cannot advocate for or explain their position.  Fortunately for Amherst democracy, there is no such policy and it took the members from the other towns, which do not have (as far as I know) Leverett Forward, Pelham Forward, or Shutesbury Forward to try to control town actions, to remind Demling of that.

Imagine if the Supreme Court had a policy that dissenters from majority opinions could not publicly offer vigorous public dissents.  Imagine a Senate majority trying to keep the minority quiet after a vote.  Before the dissolution of Town Meeting, one could not imagine Amherst muzzling dissent.  But Amherst Forward was created to do just that.

While Amherst is burdened with Amherst Forward it also fortunately has Jennifer Shiao and other thoughtful independent public officials, and more of them are making their voices heard and voting independently.  It is important to remind all of our board and committee members, both elected and appointed, that there is no such policy as Peter Demling imagines.  Of course, once votes are taken on the School Committee and other governing bodies, the majority carries the day; everyone understands and accepts that as a basic tenet of democracy.  But the majority has neither the right nor the capacity to silence dissenters.  A public board is not a “team”.  A school committee, especially, cannot engage in muzzling dissent since it oversees schooling intended, among other things, to prepare young people to be functioning members of democratic societies.

Michael Greenebaum

Michael Greenebaum was Principal of Mark’s Meadow School from 1970 to 1991, and from 1974 taught Organization Studies in the Higher Education Center at the UMass School of Education.  He served in Town Meeting from 1992, was on the first Charter Commission in 1993, and served on several town committees including the Town Commercial Relations Committee and the Long Range Planning Committee.

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4 thoughts on “Letter: School Committee’s Attempt To Silence Critic Sets Poor Example For Our Students

  1. Well said, Michael. Abraham Lincoln recognized the importance to the political process of independent thinking and free expression when he appointed his three rivals in the 1860 presidential election to his cabinet.

    Mr. Demling’s and Amherst Forward’s authoritarian bent serves neither the school district nor the town at large.

  2. If the School Committee DID have Mr. Demling’s purported policy, how could it ever survive a 1st Amendment challenge? As a Jones Library trustee more than a decade ago, I listened in public meetings to quite a bit with which I disagreed. That came with the territory. I find it shocking that any public official would try to shut another one up this way.

  3. Peter Demling’s purported “policy” is also profoundly anti-scientific: it would deny the critique of questionable conclusions or the consideration of emerging evidence that might help reach more apt conclusions — welcome back to the “dark ages”!

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