The commentary below represents the ideas, observations and opinions of the author.
Eleven days to go.
If you are like me, the end of the 2016 presidential election can’t come soon enough. I am tired of this election season in a way that I’ve never experienced before.
I am not a young man — this is the 12th time I will vote in a presidential election. As a child of the ‘50s and ‘60s, I know that I’ve seen progress in my lifetime. There is no way I’d want to go back to the world of my youth.
Back then, if you were a woman and wanted to work, you could be a nurse or a teacher or a secretary. Then and now, those are all honorable occupations but today’s horizons for women are much larger.
Racial discrimination still exists today — we all know that — but it was far worse before the dawn of the Civil Rights era. Opportunity knocked in the world of my childhood, but it didn’t knock for everyone.
If visitors from another country asked me to describe America, I’d tell them about Homewood and Flossmoor. I’d tell them that we are a very small part of a giant metropolitan area but that we have an identity that is our very own. That we value education and make repeated financial sacrifices to support the local schools. That we live here because we know that these are safe and caring communities, and ideal for raising our children.
And I would tell them about the diversity in these towns. We have an astonishing opportunity here to live together amicably despite our differences.
I grew up on Chicago’s South Side and, at an early age, was familiar with the fear and hate that comes with racial disharmony. It wasn’t until I moved to the H-F area that I found a place where people of different races are so comfortable together. This has been my home for more than a dozen years and the racial diversity of this place makes me happy every day.
Fear and hate, of course, have been a prominent part of this year’s election season. When I vote on Nov. 8 — and I am sure this will not surprise anyone — I plan to reject fear and hate and cast a ballot for the candidate who’s pledged to bring together Americans of all backgrounds, despite our myriad differences.
None of this is easy. I know that. Living together requires a certain amount of work, and overcoming biases that may have been in place since we were very young. But the payoff is enormous, and so much better than constantly hunkering down for potential conflicts with people you don’t like because they’re different.
There are times when groups of people come together to deal with perceived problems and you see how difficult it is to
do the work.
Case in point: The Sept. 26 Flossmoor School District 161 Committee of the Whole meeting.
District 161 has two meetings a month, one to conduct business and the other — the committee meeting — to go into greater detail about ongoing projects. Committee meetings can get long and the Sept. 26 session lasted about five hours. Full disclosure: I only attended a portion of the meeting but watched the rest on the district’s YouTube video.)
Over the summer, more residents started attending school board meetings and, lately, the sessions have been more confrontational.
About 50 people attended the meeting, which started with a half dozen residents asking difficult questions and making critical comments.
One person asked about a stalled school library project. Another blasted the district for sagging test scores. Another pointed to problems with test results posted on the district website. A former school board president called for civility in relations between the board and community.
After that, there was a presentation on a planned Restorative Justice program, which would change the way students are treated for behavior infractions. Students would have to make amends to the person who was hurt by their wrongdoing.
That was followed by a discussion of test scores. The district’s statistical consultant said test scores were on the rise despite “unfavorable demographics” related to increasing numbers of low income students, more non-English speakers and a rise in students new to District 161. Two board members responded angrily to the consultant’s language, saying it was offensive to refer to students in such a way.
Next, the five building principals outlined their school improvement plans.
And, at this point, something remarkable happened. Until then, it had been a tense meeting. But, as the principals talked about how proud they were to lead their schools, and make them better, audience members starting applauding and cheering them on.
By this time, I was watching the video at home. But the message was clear: We all want the same thing – to give our children the best possible education. We all want to work together to make that happen.
I haven’t mentioned that the District 161 audience was highly diverse, and so are the school board and administrative staff.
So the hard work continues. And that’s what I’ll be thinking of when I cast my ballot 11 days from now.