In late January, 2006, I put up a website, annarborpublicschools.org. It was inspired by The Yes Men (see www.theyesmen.org) and their concept of "identity correction". The Ann Arbor Public Schools (AAPS) district administration and board, through their mismanagement and ineptitude, have created a traffic menace, destroyed the environment in a city that voted for a "Greenbelt", ignored the economically disadvantaged students of the district, alienated parents, teachers, principals and the public, and cost the Ann Arbor district taxpayers millions of dollars while doing it all. Quite a record. Through their general culture of secrecy (committees that are not open to the public, forcing the public to use the Freedom of Information Act to see public information, and their rose-colored outlook, sometimes born of naivete, sometimes of fear, sometimes of arrogance) they have properly lost the trust of the vast majority of the community and even the local Ann Arbor News. And now the finger-pointing and scapegoating have begun in earnest. Do we wonder why, after creating such havoc, Superintendent George Fornero is skipping town?
annarborpublicschools.org was intended to point out, through humor and obvious, over-the-top parody of the AAPS's own website and culture, the painful and costly silliness of the district's superintendent, administration, contractors and board of education. Within about 10 days of word of its existence coming to light, it received 35,000 hits, made the front page of the Ann Arbor News, had several articles written about it, made several blogs and discussion groups, received a cease-and-desist letter from the AAPS $390/hour law firm, and was shut down.
I am happy that, during its brief, shining moment, it received some attention and brought some attention to important local issues, in a way that nearly 2 years of serious discussion did not. At least the serious discussion continues. (see www.proposedhighschool.org). Whether it will make any difference, whether the AAPS can become what it is not, a public institution that listens to and serves the public, is yet to be seen.
Many emails were received at annarborpublicschools.org. All but one were positive and supportive. All were from people who clearly knew that the site was parody.
As for buzz, here's what some people wrote about the site:
Here is an email I recently received from what sounds like a student. This is gratifying and inspiring.
Date: March 21, 2006 10:44:44 PM EST
I just wanted to say that I felt it was unfair that you had to take down annarborpublicschools.org. I felt it was something that really used the wonderful thing of Free Speech. I'm doing a report on how Free Speech is becoming limited online, and the articles I read from The Ann Arbor News, was something that really inspired me to do the topic. The KKK can make many websites for their hate, and no one does a thing about it. But the concerned citizen who voices their opinion in a humorous manner, is slapped with the threat of lawsuits. Not fair I must say.
Hopefully before the worse happens, will the school district realize the problems they are creating rather than solving.
Finally, though I am personally affiliated with Citizens for Responsible Schools (which has been fighting the district's arrogance, information-hoarding mismanagement for nearly 2 years) and though I am webmaster of that group's website (www.proposedhighschool.org), no one but me, inside or outside CRS (or any of the other many groups I am a member of) had anything to do with annarborpublicschools.org.
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