Sunday, February 18, 2007

What is PEF?

On Wednesday, I invited the email list to surf over to my BOE opinions on this blog. Readers will recall that in my summary of current BOE election leanings, I alluded to at least two of the three seats having candidates with close affiliations to PEF.

Drawing this correlation, elicited comments from "neal" (no last name provided) and sparked a thread on

Both discussions are highly recommended reading.

Tip: Yahoo Groups threads can be traversed chronologically by clicking "next message" and "prev message" at the top and bottom of each post, or you may use the thread "tree" at the bottom of each message to hop around.

In particular, I want to thank Peter Dreier for taking the time to articulate his perspective on PEF. In his first contribution to the thread (titled "Everything you always wanted to know about the Pasadena Educational Foundation"), Mr. Dreier states that he is one of 30 members of the PEF Board.

My point is, I am very encouraged to see someone from "inside" PEF taking the time to participate in public Web discussions. Last year I had the pleasure of sitting at the same table with Maureen Carlson at a function. She was appreciative of what Isaac Garcia and I had set out to do with I told her that a huge part of what we were after was a way to give community groups a voice on the Web. She mentioned something about a PEF website being static, and out of date.

I never found a specific PEF website (Google it for yourself), but they have plenty of space inside the PUSD website. Perhaps that is what Ms. Carlson meant. This is a huge (and solvable) problem for PEF. They have so far been left in the dust on the Web. It is so easy to participate in the conversation on the Web, but it requires one vitally important ingredient: understanding the Web.

As far as I can tell, until Isaac and I threw our hats in the ring last year with, there was basically a single voice that controlled the PUSD political conversation online. That voice is most likely still the most prolific, probably out-posting by orders of magnitude to this day, although I wouldn't know first hand, as I was kicked off that list, and non-members cannot browse the discussions. Sequestering themselves is their loss, arguably proving that the list owner doesn't really "get it" either, and leaving plenty of room for far less ambitious (compulsive?) voices to be heard.

Before starting with Isaac, I made overtures towards helping PEN upgrade their Web presence. At least they already had a website, albeit (at the time) a bit primitive, so it didn't seem as far as a stretch for them. PEN CEO, Chris Brandow, was very much interested in creating an interactive web presence, and we worked together on a plan, but to my (and I think Chris') disappointment, the concept was rejected by the PEN Board. PEN has since made some strides in using the Web for top-down dissemination, but in my opinion, PEN does not understand the Web any better than PEF.

Yes, PEN knows they can use it for efficient and inexpensive publishing. Granted, this is miles ahead of groups like Invest In PUSD Kids (as I believe they are officially called these days), and so many others who, like PEF, literally have almost zero web presence.

But having a Web site is not all it takes. The trick is to be comfortable with the fact that the Web can not be controlled. This is why it is hard for traditionally organized groups to "get it". PEN is a prime example of a group who insists on exerting top-down control on the Web. It's the pessimistic approach to using the Web. Keep a firewall between the publishers and the readers, because, if you let the readers become contributors, they might say something off-message. Yeah. They might.

But if rational things are being said, even (or especially) if they are counter to your assumptions, then might you not want to know that? There is big danger in discouraging dissent. Before long, no-one is willing to point out that the Emperor has no clothes. This is not to say that I don't understand why private organizations like PEF and PEN are afraid of what is being said online. The problem is a chicken or egg conundrum:
The online discussions of us are generally negative, based on false assumptions; we don't want to legitimize false negative rhetoric, therefore we will not acknowledge; the online communities erroneously read a hidden agenda into our silence, letting false negative perceptions echo with no counterpoint...
...and so on. Lucky for anyone who wants it, the field is still basically wide open for public PUSD discussion, and nobody really has to worry about which came first, the false or the negative. Other than, I don't know of any other completely public forum for discussion of general issues relating to PUSD politics. All that is required is participation.

And the good news? PEF has at least one member who seems to "get it." I don't think it can be overstated how beneficial it is for PEF to have an informed, "insider" who is willing and able to discuss what exactly it is that PEF does and is in a completely public, "Googleable" forum like

Peter Dreier has jumped the most important hurdle, one that the PEN Board literally voted not to jump last year. Mr. Dreier, as a member of PEF, has stepped into an wide open public Web arena, and stated his opinion and views about PEF, engaging in civil debate, open to the public, on the Web. All other groups I have observed in PUSD politics, are only willing to hold such debates in small "in person" groups. In a Web-enabled age, this at best gives the impression of being hidebound, and at worst gives the impression of having something to hide.

I was enthusiastic when PUSD BOE Trustees Ed Honowitz and later Scott Phelps joined the conversation on, but they are elected officials, so while extremely helpful, it can almost be expected for them to weigh in on a public forum. It's part of their job to talk to the voters, and anyway, they're subject to the rules of the Brown Act, and therefore already do most of their business in public.

A group like PEF, however, has no particular obligation to talk openly on the Web or otherwise about what they do. To the contrary, it is easy to understand why a private non-profit group might actively shun the big scary Web, full of angry, prolific naysayers. And yet, I passionately believe that to avoid participating on the Web, uncontrollable as it is, is far worse than jumping in and taking your licks.

Peter, you are to be congratulated for "getting it" [and hello to Maureen as well].

1 comment:

  1. I can't agree more with your blog post Jeremiah. While I don't agree with everything Peter Drier wrote in our email exchange - I WAS and AM very grateful for his participation.

    Open, public debate on the web is helpful to everyone and, if conducted in a civil manner, can be one of the most powerful means of communication that people can leverage.

    I hope Mr. Drier's emails are only the beginning of a larger groundswell of Pasadena participants on this and other public forums.