Local Commentary

Editorial: Democratic Discourse In Action

Credit goes to Falls Church’s still new Superintendent of Schools Dr. Peter Noonan for his handling of the contentious issue of the extent to which the auditorium in the new George Mason High School will be as well or better equipped for theater and related programs as the one in the current school.

He did not hunker down and become paranoid, secretive or authoritarian in the face of growing public concern. Instead, he went full out with all the data and expertise he could bring to bear for a lengthy and precise discussion by the School Board on the matter Tuesday night. It drew out a lot of very pertinent questions by the board, and by the meeting’s end there appeared to be a consensus on that body that the new plans — even though they do not include the full “fly loft” system that’s in the current auditorium — met with the board’s approval.

Everybody in that room learned far more about the prospective new auditorium and its elements that had been openly discussed before, and of the new technologies that will be implemented to take the theater to a new technological level, and at a reduced cost and risk.

Credit also goes to the citizens who called out their concerns on the matter, and made an issue of it. As Shawn Northrip, Mason’s theater arts teacher and creator/director of many successful productions there over the last seven years, said Tuesday, the overall program in the new school will be the better for the issues that were raised, in some cases quite passionately, by citizens in recent weeks.

This is how good government works. The net result may not please everyone, and indeed we continue to have our concerns as well, but if a net result is unsatisfactory with the public, then democracy provides remedies that authoritarian or totalitarian systems do not.

So, whatever residual concerns or issues anyone in the public may have about the school project should be brought to this Sunday’s meeting on the entirety of the school campus project — the new high school component or the 10 acres of economic development component — at 2 p.m. at the Falls Church Community Center. All reasonable questions deserve answers, but have to be asked with an eye to engaging in a constructive community dialogue.

It is instructive, in the recent years’ descent of civility and away from empathetic community building, how our democracy’s sworn enemies, the cruel regimes of tyrants, utilize and disseminate the language of division and hate to advance their agendas.

Such insights have generally been lost to the American public, even though we’ve seen them just the past year in the disclosure of tactics used by the Russians to influence American democratic elections. In sewing division, it’s not the divisions in and of themselves they focus on most. No, it’s the incivility and angry use of verbal assaults that are central to their M.O.