Watch your tongue

Malicious online postings are cowardly and evil

Have you noticed how the proliferation of anonymous online postings has brought out the nastiness in people? It’s getting ugly out there.

I’m thinking of the responses to Enterprise-Record reporter Roger Aylworth’s July 20 story about six Chico school administrators’ recent trip to China. So far, there have been more than 150 anonymous posts to the paper’s Topix Forum website, many of them riddled with malicious personal attacks.

As Aylworth reported, the trip was meant to lay the groundwork for expanding the after-school programs in Chinese culture and language now being offered at Shasta and Sierra View elementary schools. Funding for the trip came from the College Board and the Chinese government, not from the Chico Unified School District. Three of the participants, CUSD Superintendent Kelly Staley, Board of Trustees President Jann Reed, and Joanne Parsley, the district’s director of educational services, paid the $900 registration fee out of their own pockets.

You’d have thought from reading the postings that they’d yanked the money right out of students’ hands and used it for personal vacations on the taxpayers’ dime.

The very first posting, from someone with the moniker “Teacher,” gives an indication of the tone of the others: “They paid for their little vacation ou[t] of grant funds that are supposed to go to the students. Kelly Staley and [Marsh Junior High Principal] Jay Marchant couldn’t spell CHINA, let alone know how to find it on a map. I loved the only thing that our idiot superintendent could comment about was the food. What a total waste of valuable funds! … We sent some of our worst staff to go on a vacation. We sent Jann Reed????? She is a board member who because she sits on the board is now some veritable sage on education? It’s enough to scream or barf over.”

In a subsequent phone interview, Staley acknowledged she and her staff could have done a better job of explaining the trip beforehand. Symbols resonate, and an excursion to China at a time when the district is facing a budgetary sinkhole and possible takeover by the state ran the risk of ticking folks off.

But the funding for the trip was meant for professional development, Staley said, was intended “by design” for administrators and could not have been spent on students. Similar trips are planned for coming years, and will include teachers, students and even parents.

What seems to have gotten lost in the noise is the potential value of the programs the CUSD wants to build. It makes sense to pay more attention to China and to incorporate Chinese culture and language into the schools’ curricula. And it’s certainly valuable for the people who will be implementing these curricula to visit China and get a firsthand view of it.

One of the things I’ve realized as a journalist is that words are powerful and can cause great harm. Making irresponsible and hurtful comments under the cloak of anonymity is cowardly and evil. If you can’t say it to someone’s face, don’t say it. Or, as my grandmother often advised, “Watch your tongue.”