Board Chair Reflects on ‘Civility’ in Opening Remarks

People High Fiving each other

Contributed by Dr. Al Cohen, Chair of the Capital Region ESD 113 Board of Directors at the November 10, 2021 board meeting.

Call me old-fashioned, but I yearned for the days when civility in America was the norm, not the exception. Two months ago was the 20th anniversary of the horrific attack on America as planes were hijacked and flown into the twin towers in the city of New York and the Pentagon in Washington D.C. and the fourth plane headed for the United States Capitol crashed in a field in Pennsylvania thanks to Americans who overtook the terrorists. I think it is fair to say, that terrible day united us. Do you remember when all members of the United States Senate and House of Representatives, stood as one and sang God Bless American in front of the Capitol? How often have we experienced the U.S. Congress show a united front?

More recently I watched a short video of very young hockey players navigating the ice rink. One young tyke fell and had great difficulty regaining an upright position. A few seconds later we see an opposing player stop and reach out a hand to help the fallen player regain balance. For me and many others, this was a touching act of kindness. I ask, how often have we witnessed this type of kindness and respect by athletes at the high school, college, and professional levels? For me, it is becoming even more disturbing that we see less and less handshaking and congratulatory greetings at the end of the event.

Civility doesn’t mean that we all agree on issues, but it does mean to me at least that it is okay to disagree with one another without being disagreeable. Disagreeing with one another is built into the fabric of our democracy. We relish thought-provoking debates and we usually are better off because of expressing different perspectives. This is also true for athletic events. We love the competitive spirit, the traditional rivalries, and the give it all efforts, but at the end of the day, we should show respect and even praise our opponents.

So you might be thinking, why am I talking about political and athletic matters in terms of civility? We are an Educational Service District and that’s precisely why I’m using the examples from politics and athletics to highlight civility. We readily relate to those arenas, and this is helpful as we work with our students. We can use politics and athletics as the springboard to sharing civil behavior from behavior that is not civil. Teaching about civility, teaching about respect, teaching about listening, teaching about kindness, teaching about helping one another are critical keys to the foundation of the American way of life. I know and have confidence, that members of ESD 113 and the forty-four school districts that make up the ESD will continue their efforts with their students to make civility a most worthy and necessary value.

Yes, call me old-fashioned, I cherish a civil society. Let’s make civil behavior a norm not an exception. In closing, I’m reminded of the lyrics from the song that Dionne Warwick so beautifully sang, “Reach out and touch somebody’s hand, make this world a better place if you can”.