Colin Dabkowski is the art and drama critic at The Buffalo News. He’s prolific and smart and as a former colleague and current friend, he brings value to a daily newspaper that all the social media “critics” cannot. He’s trained. He’s watched more productions of more plays and musicals than any 500 of us. That counts for much.
Anyway, he and/or his editor had a great idea: Treat a public meeting of the Buffalo Board of Education as drama, as theater and the board members, administrators and parents as the actors they all are. Each plays a role. All deliver drama, character and conflict that combine to produce “theater.” In this case, theater of the absurd.
Buffalo, like too many large American cities, has a floundering K-12 school system, filled with angry and frustrated teachers and parents. Pupils and students work and graduate far below the standards needed to find jobs in our ever more complex society or to succeed in higher education.
State officials, experts from a renowned university and the best minds and leadership the region can muster find too few successes in a system with a reputation for failure and a crisis for its prolonged inability to do what it’s supposed to do.
Dabkowski’s piece is a mix of satire, humor and clever metaphors that delivers a core message that Rome burns while we fiddle. The solution must be multi-pronged and goes well beyond the classroom and the school building. Nearly every city in America puts on these theaters of the absurd any time a school board, a city council, a planning board gathers. It’s a crisis of service, of not voting, of not caring.
Rules modified to serve the needs of the few will of course ignore the needs of the many. People trying their best to apply logic, passion and innovation to a system designed to block and squelch those needed qualities will become frustrated. Instead of trying to fix the system, energy siphons off to alternatives — charter and private and parochial schools.
The crisis in America’s inner-city schools will still resonate for generations if it were fixed today. But we’re decades away from fixing or even re-directing this crisis. The people involved are smart, professional and well-meaning.
But this theater of the absurd will only become a Hallmark Hall of Fame, good-feeling production if the same effort is applied to urban schools as our nation applied to reaching the moon, legislating against racism and cleaning up the environment.
Otherwise, this long-running play that takes curtain calls every night in cities across our country will continue to be the dark comedy it is today.
The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the Northeast and Southeast. Learn more about EMA at http://www.mower.com. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.