Barriers to Having an Effective Dialogue

What are the Barriers to Having an Effective Public Dialogue about our Public Schools?

When asked about the risks of having a public dialogue about San Francisco’s public schools, many respondents also spoke about barriers to having an effective dialogue. Below are the themes that came up and some selected quotes. Download a full list of responses.

  • Dialogue is complicated/emotional
    “I’m resentful that my kids didn’t get into public school! I tried 3 times. I’m resentful of all of you who got into a public school. There’s a lot of money that could be in my retirement account right now, but we’re paying it in tuition. The roots of people’s feelings are deep.”
  • Participation is narrow, not broad (same old voices)
    “That it devolves into a shouting match. In general, in SF, the loudest people get heard but they’re not always the most reasonable or willing to see more than one side. People get into their rigid framing of a problem. It’s not a problem solving dialogue. It’s a shouting match.”
  • Time constraints for target populations
    “It will be tough to get parents who work 3 jobs, parents from the Bayview, parents who don’t speak English. A lot of Asian parents come to meetings, but proportionally they are under-represented….But people don’t have a lot of time.”
  • Language Barriers
    “It’s got to be multilingual. The voices of those cultures need to be heard because they have a very different understanding of the situation.”
  • Lack of confidence in effectiveness of dialogue
    “I’m not interested in dialogue. The people who are working to push the change are too busy doing it to dialogue. Unless it’s dialogue that has money behind it and we have access to. I don’t know if we need to get together to talk; we need to just keep doing the work.”
  • Lack of interest
    “The fact that people are just dismissing [public schools] as an option is very interesting. They don’t see it as, ‘These are our schools and what can I do to make it better?’“
  • Conflicting political interests/Need buy-in
    “You have to have teacher buy-in and, like you say, the union buy-in. It has to be introduced as something everyone is working on together. It can’t just be a superintendent thing. The business community doesn’t think the schools know how to run themselves well, so if they lead it, the school district will react. It’s got to be a good blending of people in a space where everyone can set aside the politics of it and the dynamics and work together. There’s a lot of politics within the SFUSD itself and also within the city. People just got to get real and say, ‘We’ve got to do this work or not.’ “
  • Ego
    “Politics and ego. Some of the solution are not going to make people happy. Some will lose power and some will gain power. They don’t want it to change.”
  • Turf
    “One big problem is there are a lot of different organizations claiming a piece of this space. There are people saying, “We’re the education people!” But nobody rises to the top and holds it together. It’s almost competitive. “No, my organization is going to be the first!” We don’t know how to come together. Whether it’s transformational leadership, or something else, the first thing is to come to consensus on where we need to go.”
  • Race and social class
    “Class clash. The danger is – there is a loyalty that folks like me have. We’re not giving up SF. I’m the parent who fights every year for intra-district transfer. I’ll be damned if I put all this work in for my child not to benefit. On the flip side, so does the upper elite, the upper class, the middle class. They feel like, you can’t afford here, therefore you should move, you’re gone. In the civic dialogue, it’s hard to get that piece and respect that piece. Nobody in this community is asking for anything they don’t have a right to here. We helped build this city, to make it a name to be nationally known. To kick them out of schools, that their parents and grandparents helped physically build. Can’t do that, it’s not equitable. That piece, when it comes up, causes it to be a standstill. People hit a wall, don’t know what to do with this. …It’s hard to have racism in conversations. There’s race-phobia, phobia of talking about race.”
  • Lack of knowledge/misinformation about what goes on in the schools
    “One of the challenges might be that people actually don’t know what really happens inside a school and sometimes people are making decisions that are well-intentioned but that aren’t a good fit for a school. I want to make sure that people involved have the same information, so they know what it is their speaking of.”
  • Mistrust of SFUSD
    “Many people who move here don’t trust the public school system. It’s byzantine enrollment because of core mandates. It has culminated in a system that’s really hard to penetrate. That gives core middle class people who want to enroll in public schools a mistrust.”
  • Role of the Media
    “Then the question of how media comes in, what are the products that are being put out for public consumption?”