"Trump has made fear the dominant emotion of our times," wrote Tony Schwartz1, the author of The Art of the Deal. This sub-culture has crept into every corner of our lives. While the world mourned the tragedy in Florida this week, the board of education where I live established an anonymous tip line to catch children who attend our public schools, but who are alleged to actually reside elsewhere.
The optics are atrocious. Pelham, New York is an affluent suburb that abuts New York City, Mount Vernon and New Rochelle. New York's schools are deeply segregated by race and class. I've lived here my whole life, and I've lived in all four of the aforementioned municipalities. In each phase of my life as a grown-up, I've heard the allegations of school poachers, with words to the effect, "some of these kids are not from here, and that's the reason (fill-in problem here)."
This week the Pelham Board of Ed issued a memo stating,
"Anyone who believes a student currently attending the Pelham Schools is not a District resident is encouraged to report this by calling 914-738-3434 ext. 1166 or send an email to email@example.com. Such reports may be made anonymously."
An anonymous tip line? Really? Are there so many poachers that we need to ID them like fugitives on "The Hunt with John Walsh"? Of course not. This is an example of a governmental institution, the Pelham Board of Education, succumbing to fear, helped along by garden-style racism on the part of a small number of people. There could be children that reside elsewhere among the 3,000 students, but by establishing an anonymous hotline for tips, everybody is a suspect.
You know that kid nobody really knows? Report them. How about the kid whose dad needed GPS to get to your kids birthday party. Report them. How about the kid whose mom has out-of-state license plates? Report her. You have never SEEN the child's parents? Report them too.
Hey, Pelham, why stop here? Let's have a tip line for people that renovate their houses without obtaining work permits. They're tax cheaters too. Let's have a separate anonymous tip line for illegal basement apartments, because I see a lot of doorbells in Pelham.
In May the Board of Education will ask voters to approve a whopper of a school construction bond to build a new school in the part of the town that happens to have the largest concentration of non-white residents. The renewed interest in investigating school poachers correlates with this, and suggests the board is telegraphing uneasy, overtaxed white voters, "We've got your back."
WHAT'S REALLY GOING ON
It's all rooted in fear. It echoes the worst themes of the current era. Neighbors report neighbors. People will get phone calls and visits, they will be asked to prove that they are who they say they are. It will be inconvenient at a minimum, demoralizing to all and in a few cases, people could be sent packing for another district, or even another country. The same investigative work could be accomplished by district administrators without the pageantry of the anonymous tip line, and the public scare.
I'm disappointed that even my local school board has weaponized fear to achieve its goals. My recommendation is to discontinue the anonymous tip line immediately, and focus on the mission of teaching and learning. Get to know the kids, and you'll find out what, if anything, is really going on. Don't let fear be the dominant emotion on the local stage.