I turned on Channel 79 tonight expecting vitriol and venom.
The show was the RTM education budget discussion. After decades worth of Town Hall meetings — from busing Bridgeport students and recalling a Board of Ed chairman to bundles of budget battles — I thought I knew the drill.
During public comment, speakers would sputter and spew. They’d impugn opponents’ motives and integrity, stopping just short of assailing their ancestors. It would be a nasty night, and when it was over I’d want to take a shower.
It’s only 10 p.m., and this thing could go on until tomorrow. But so far I’ve been pleasantly surprised to hear reasoned discussion, rational discourse, even dollops of humor. It came from both sides of the aisle.
I’ve been pleasantly surprised too by the vigorous defense of our school system by folks on the other side of the aisle from me — citizens who in past years have wielded sharp elbows but who tonight embraced the importance of education, and the way it is delivered in Westport.
But I was most pleasantly surprised by the speeches of the youngest attendees. Unlike me, they did not sit home watching on TV. They got themselves to Town Hall. And then they stood up to speak, in public, in front of a bunch of adults.
The students — many from Staples, some (particularly impressively) still in middle school — were poised and passionate. They were articulate and clear. They were funny.
They talked about their lives. They talked about the importance of preparing themselves to live in a global village. One quoted from the Board of Ed’s own mission statement.
Now it’s 10:15 p.m. The RTM just voted overwhelmingly not to restore $1.4 million previously cut. Odds are, more disappointment lies ahead for our young people.
But whatever the outcome, they’ve already done themselves proud. They’ve done their parents proud, their school system proud and their town proud.
Maybe their calm yet insistent presence helped create the overall civil tone for tonight. If so, they taught us well.