Things that make me scratch my head

But, whatever. (Getty images)

There are things in life that just make me scratch my head. I’ve learned to shrug it off.

For instance, when my kids were younger, I wondered – and actually wrote about – why Hannah Montana never, until the last season, mentioned her mother, who died sometime before she was 12.

I mean, isn’t losing a parent like a seminal thing in a young person’s life?

And isn’t it, like, more meaningful if you’re living a double life where issues of identity are front and center? Not having a parent when you’re trying to figure out who you are is tough. Especially when who you are is a rock star who’s trying to be a regular girl. And yet, it never comes up.

I think the answer is that Hannah Montana was being written by a bunch of post-collegiate frat guys who used a sit-com model and chose not to think too deeply. Her mother aside, I would watch that show and think, “Man they are missing an opportunity here. This is a show about identity geared to pre-teens who are just starting to struggle with this, as social media is coming to the fore. There could be so much kids could get from this.”

But, whatever.

A couple of years ago, I reread the entire Harry Potter series, and I found a few head scratching moments I wish I hadn’t seen. Like when Harry, Hermione and Ron are sneaking out of the Gryffindor common room to find the Sorcerer’s (or Philosopher’s) Stone, and are intercepted by Neville, who tells them not to go. Hermione says “Neville, I’m really sorry about this,” and then puts a Full Body Bind Curse on him, making his entire body rigid, and even rendering him unable to speak.

“Only his eyes were moving, looking at them in horror.”

I’m sorry, but if my friends were going out to do something stupid and dangerous and I tried to stop them and they tied me up or gave me some drug so I couldn’t move I WOULDN’T BE FRIENDS WITH THEM ANY MORE. That’s abusive behavior!

Sure, Hermione apologizes to him before she makes his entire body rigid, causing it to fall like a plank to the floor. Ouch. Sure, Dumbledore gives him points for having the bravery to “stand up to your friends” at the end of the book. And Neville turns out to be the hero. I can guarantee you this would not fly in any school I’ve ever seen.

But, whatever.

One of the things that has made me scratch my head recently is that folks who work for or represent the Clark County Education Association have been saying on social media that I don’t like CCEA. Really? I have never written anything critical of CCEA. I have criticized the trolls on Twitter. Because they’re being trolls. But the last time I interviewed John Vellardita was to talk about the tax bills CCEA was gathering signatures for to bring to the Legislature; bills that I was for, but skeptical about actually succeeding, because of our no-tax governor and the Democratic leaders of both houses. And in fact, the bills never got a hearing.

But I’ve never expressed any dislike for CCEA. I am pro-union. Might there be things I think they can do better for their members? Sure. Have I written about that? Not yet, anyway. So why do they think I hate them?

Now, I have criticized Superintendent Jesus Jara. A lot. And I have criticized former board presidents Lola Brooks and Deanna Wright. Is my criticism of the district and its trustees being interpreted as criticism of the teachers union?

That seems… odd.

I’m working on a long-term piece about governance models, loosely called, “Who the hell is Robert and why do we follow his rules?” I’m interested in how public speech is controlled – who is allowed to speak, and who isn’t. Anyway, I’ve been talking to a lot of governance and policy people and at some point in several conversations I have to give them background on the 2020 special session, when Jara tried to change a law behind people’s backs so he could take away control of school budgets from principals. He didn’t want people to know it was his idea, so Vellardita presented the bill. This was the time when, after the bill was defeated, Speaker Jason Frierson said, “You don’t get to light a firecracker and then run for cover.”

When I tell that story, I am often stopped in the middle by the people I’m talking to. “Why was the teachers union president presenting the bill for the district,” ask these public policy experts.

Yes, I say. That’s a good question.

So, maybe this is an unusual district? Maybe CCEA really does think I hate them because I criticize the organization they’re negotiating against? I have no idea.

The only thing I can think of is that Vellardita was angry with me because I interviewed Alexis Salt. He detests Alexis Salt. He’s told me so more than once.

Which brings up another thing that makes me scratch my head. How can you detest Alexis Salt? It’s like, detesting Mary Poppins. Or Alice from Wonderland. I mean, she’s a Hufflepuff!

But, whatever.

Now I’m scratching my head because of my kids’ – our high school kids’ – schedule. 

Just as everyone was starting to groove in the second semester and had their schedules down, we started hybrid. And instead of just putting kids back in school a couple of days a week with the same schedule, the folks at CCSD decided they had to have a totally different schedule, to avoid too many passing periods.

Now, it’s like our kids have fallen through the looking glass, as they woke up on Monday morning for a class they thought started at 8, but really started at 7, rushing to their computers, like the White Rabbit, chanting “I’m late, I’m late, I’m late.”

The schedule sounds like something Alice would have encountered in her little room, where she grows and shrinks. The first period one week is the last period the next. And some periods are over in an hour and some are over in close to two. And they can only be there in the mornings, but they may not have time to get home for the start of afternoon class.

Why? Just why? Didn’t anyone come up with any better ideas to deal with passing periods? And doesn’t the district have enough flexibility to adapt when they realize that only 37 percent of kids are coming back into schools? Couldn’t they have said, “Oh! Nevermind. We can stick to the old schedule now that we know we don’t have that many kids in classrooms.”

The answer, of course, is no, they couldn’t. Because to be able to do that, you have to have a culture that allows dissent and discussion. You have to be committed to solving the problem and adjusting on the fly and trusting people.

CCSD is not that organization. I have talked to many people who know Jara – in Vegas and before he got here. And they all say the same thing: For Jara it’s my way or the highway. He isn’t interested in learning from your expertise. He’s interested in you doing what he says, even if you know it’s going to do more harm. Obey or leave. 

When you create a culture in which people are punished for asking questions, much less vocalizing dissent, then you have a culture that cannot solve problems. I am sure there are folks in the Sahara building, and certainly principals in schools, who had better ideas of how to handle the high school schedules. But they are afraid to speak.

So they don’t. And our kids suffer the consequences of decisions that aren’t vetted, of ideas that, when put into place, make us scratch our heads.

But here we are, in the last quarter of the school year as the end of the pandemic stretches out over the summer horizon. The kids in class are happy to be there. The teachers, doing cartwheels while holding up a tea set, are happy to see them. So we go with it.

‘Cause, whatever.

When do we stop shrugging this off?

Carrie Kaufman
Broadcast, digital and print journalist Carrie Kaufman has covered the Clark County School District for public radio and The Nevada Voice since 2015.