Thursday, April 26, 2007

Needed: New Paris Peace Talks

Advice, Please:

Now that Tim and I are in the harsh new social environment known as the PTA, we're part of an email communication system in which each new posting to the PTA discussion board is also delivered as an email message. I appreciate this immediacy, because it'll remind me constantly of PTA meetings, changes in class schedules, and so on. However, I fear the immediacy as well, because it is an easy way for conversational wildfires to start and rage furiously and unproductively. To be specific: the school is working full-tilt on its upcoming Carnival, which is our only schoolwide fundraiser of the year and very important to our budget. A parent wrote in to say that her 5-year-old felt too pressured to sell $1 raffle tickets for the carnival and this was a problem that the parent community needed to fix. Her post was several paragraphs long, however, and was not as well-worded or well-edited as it could have been. Consequently, several parents who are hard at work on the Carnival (and deeply stressed out about it) felt criticized by other parents just at the time when they needed to feel community support.

Was this tension handled by one parent calling up the other parent and saying, "Gee, we're having some hard feelings about this, how can we work this out and move on?" No. It played itself out in waves of various parents posting from the perspectives of: a) hostile; b) defensive; c) suggesting a big summit to overhaul school fundraising; d) impugning other parents' child-rearing abilities; e) calling for a school-wide party to celebrate the school-wide carnival; d) calling for a special peace summit ..... on and on.

The email tsunami might have seemed pretty funny if I wasn't a member of the fundraising committee.

So here's a question: Plenty of internet sites address email etiquette like, "don't post in all-caps," "be nice to newbies", how to use the little carrot-marks as quotes, and so on. But have you seen anything about how to avoid this type of 'reply to all' Sturm und Drang, or how to reconcile it once it has run its course? I figure plenty of PTAs out there have experienced precisely this situation before.


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