Governments gone wrong
It is fall, and things change quickly. Leaves, like blossoming flowers, are on our minds and in the headlines these days. Down in Merrimack, a high school senior’s flower-holding portrait was banned from the school’s yearbook on grounds that it violated the policy of no props in yearbook photos, but the principal quickly returned with a compromise: uphold the ban, but allow the photo to appear in a candid section of the yearbook. So it seems the yearbook’s standards will go down as the pages go up.
How did our policies and procedures get so off track? As a high school civics teacher, I introduce process in a flattering way. After all, it is the way we slow things down to ensure that all sides and participants are heard. Impulse is the enemy of good decision-making and a common trait of power-hungry dictators.
But the mess in Merrimack offers a disturbing, possibly more prevailing, view of process in our modern, increasingly complicated society. At a minimum level, taxpayers and parents should be outraged that this question has dominated so much time of top administrators. Moreover, the issue of expanding process, policies and procedures at every level of government is removing personal judgment, which is essential in a republic, unwittingly curtailing individual liberties (like holding a flower), and destroying the credibility of government at all levels to make good, wise and popular decisions.
The solution lies in the genius of our Constitution, a simple document of few words and even fewer important ideals. It is the job of the living, not the long dead founding fathers, to interpret these ideals. Process has gotten out of control because the “professional what-ifers” live in a technical, legal world aimed at foreseeing and saving us from every potential problem. To get the chains of process off us, we must embrace simple, ideal-based policies that allow people the maximum personal freedom and public officials the maximum freedom to exercise their judgment.
Democracy expands opportunities, process shouldn’t curtail them.
In Merrimack, the solution may lie in adding just one word to their no-props policy. That word? “Inappropriate.” That would, most certainly, allow the young woman to hold her flower and maybe even spark a healthy debate.
Jeff Woodburn of Dalton teaches at White Mountains Regional High School. He writes a bi-monthly column, Rural Ramblings, for the Coos County Democrat.