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Recently, I attended my first meeting at the Department of Education (DOE) as a concerned parent instead of for work. I accompanied members of my school district’s Community Education Council (CEC) to a meeting with DOE staff to discuss planned changes to the district’s current admissions policy. The DOE wishes to change the policies concerning admissions to schools in our district.

I may have mentioned that getting my son into the school my wife and I wanted was tough. You probably have guessed that keeping him there was almost as equally as tough. The DOE passed rules that would have forced my son out of his school because they do not consider Pre-K the point of entry into a school. In their new policies, they also do not give preference to siblings.

This means while your child will have successfully attended Pre-K at a school, there is no guarantee that he will be allowed to attend kindergarten at the same school. It also means that if you have a child already attending a particular school, there is no guarantee that his younger brother or sister will be allowed to attend the same school. You will be responsible for juggling two drop offs and pick ups.

I joined other parents at a public CEC meeting with representatives of the DOE to voice our unhappiness with their new policies. That meeting resulted in the meeting I recently attended. Much smaller and much more tight-lipped, the meeting I attended recently was supposed to be a “next steps” meeting. It was supposed to be a meeting that provided us with steps to informing a revision of the DOE’s policy that would satisfy both them and us, the parents.

Instead we left the meeting burdened with having to prove that the DOE’s proposed admissions policy would decimate our current standards of education. We left having to propose a new admissions policy without being given any knowledge of what we can and cannot propose (e.g. what is legal and what is not). DOE staff quipped, “Show us something.”

Now, I see why some of the parents were cynical before the meeting. I meet with a few of the parents before the meeting to strategize what we would say. In hindsight, it wasn’t necessary. The DOE staff were tightlipped but their body language made it obvious that they were there as an empty gesture that they did not care to disguise.

I was angry when I left the meeting. What a waste of time! How Smug! The Arrogance! But when I calmed down I remembered the book I had read recently as a work assignment; Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends & Influence People.

Published over half a century ago, Carnegie’s book provides simple rules towards effective interpersonal communications. A lot of it is common sense but I think people just need to hear it. Sometimes if it seems too much like common sense, people forget that there is an art and perhaps a science to communicating effectively without offending the people you are speaking to.

I was definitely offended by the tone of DOE staff and the lack of interest they took in an issue that is very close to me – my son’s education. However, I got over it because the road to success is a two way street and throwing their attitude back at them would not have helped the parents I was with or the cause we were there to voice. I just sat there and bit my tongue. I made a hasty withdrawal after the meeting to cool off and get my head on what needed to be written as a result of the meeting.

Carnegie offers three fundemental techniques for managing people:

  • “Don’t criticize, condemn or complain.”
  • “Give people a feeling of importance; praise the good parts of them.”
  • “Get the other person to do what you want them to by arousing their desires.”

He also provides “12 Ways to Win People to Your Way of Thinking” and “Nine Ways to Change People Without Giving Offense or Arousing Resentment.” Notes of Intelligence has excellent summaries of the book. Wikipedia has some entertaining trivia about the book.

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