Back in the late 1980s, NBC came up with a colorful little promo series called, “The More You Know,” which featured one-minute public service announcements meant to inform and educate.

Some people could use a booster shot of those these days.

Or perhaps someone — not big government, they don’t want you paying attention — should mandate a weekly current events assignment for all Americans, where each of us is required to pick up a newspaper, find a local story of interest, and write about it.

Then maybe, just maybe, we will be a more informed and educated citizenry.

Folks, knowledge is power, and right now if you are feeling powerless in the face of a rapidly changing world where individual rights and freedoms are under attack, you need to ask yourself why that is — even though you might not like the answer.

It’s your fault.

You don’t have any power because you don’t pay attention to what is going on around you until it’s too late. Complaining and blaming everyone and their grandma when the ship has already sailed doesn’t do anyone any good.

It really amazes me (and it shouldn’t at this point) just how many people are willfully uninformed these days and eager to advertise that fact with ill-informed statements, mis-information and just plain stupid comments for the world to see on social media.

The tragic part of this is the answers are out there. Knowledge is all around us. It’s within everyone’s reach — easily accessible in this high-tech, Internet run world.

But too many people live in a bubble, only concerned with their little radius of existence until the real world comes crashing down on them and then, and only then, do they react.

This phenomenon is particularly true when it comes to local government and politics, where the average Joe or Jane is often completely disengaged from the process until it’s too late.

A recent situation featured in this very newspaper (a good place to start when seeking knowledge of local government and politics) is the latest example of what I’m talking about.

COVID-19 (a term I’m completely and utterly tired of typing) has been headline news since March 2020 and the reported surge of the Delta variant has been dominating the news cycle since late July.

And while you and your neighbors might have checked out of the COVID hotel, local school and city officials haven’t had that luxury, particularly since the governor’s mandate powers disappeared and put the decision making process in their laps.

School boards have been discussing back-to-school COVID options all summer. It’s been a constant line item on every agenda across northern Minnesota.

On Aug. 4, Hibbing school officials had a 30-minute discussion about how the district would approach the 2021-22 academic year. This took place at their regular school board meeting, which was open to the public.

The dates and times for board meetings are posted on the Hibbing High School website along with a few other places. The agendas are readily available for public consumption well in advance of those meetings. The minutes — the official written record of what was discussed — are available soon after the meetings, which, by the way, are also video taped and put online on Youtube.

During that Aug. 4 meeting, Hibbing Superintendent Richard Aldrich told the board that the plan was for the district to begin the year recommending mask usage but warned that because of the changing nature of COVID, that plan could change quickly.

The story was in the following day’s Mesabi Tribune. The meeting minutes are out there. Video of the meeting is online.

On Sept. 8, the board met again for one of its regular monthly meetings — at the same time and place they always meet — and this time, according to Aldrich and board members, because of a change in the COVID situation, it was announced that mask usage in the schools would be mandated starting Aug. 13.

I wrote about that meeting too. The story was published in the paper the morning after. The minutes are available. Video of the meeting is online.

Yet, when Monday came and masks were mandated, some people reacted with shock and awe, as if the writing hadn’t been on the wall for weeks or even months.

The online social media comments on the situation ranged from (I’m paraphrasing), “why didn’t anyone tell us,” to “this came out of nowhere,” to “they didn’t even give us a chance to argue our side.”

I even saw a few posts where people were wondering how I got the story and insinuating that Hibbing school officials fed it to me, and only me.

(Insert audible sigh).

I knew about the meeting(s) because I was paying attention. It’s my job to know what’s going on, of course, but if I was a parent in the district (and I am a parent in a district), I guess I would consider it my job to know what school officials are up to.

Some will no doubt mistake this commentary (if they even read it) and the intentions behind it. It has nothing to do with mask mandates or whether or not I believe in them. It has nothing to do with that and everything to do with reminding people that again, knowledge is power and without knowledge, you are powerless.

Pick up a paper. Turn on the local news. Seek out agendas. Talk to your neighbors. Call your local elected officials.

Do anything. Do something.

Don’t just react.

The information is all there just waiting for you to find it. It’s not a complicated system. You don’t need a treasure map or to solve any riddles to find the answers.

You just need to stay engaged. Just because you aren’t paying attention, doesn’t mean nothing’s happening.

After covering school boards and city councils as a newspaper reporter for the better part of 20 years I can tell you that more times than not, when a board or council makes a big decision they’ve spent a lot of time discussing it, right out in the open, during several meetings open to the public.

When they finally vote yes to that housing project, or to raising your property taxes, or to mandating masks, the only people surprised by it are the people who weren’t paying attention.

The same people that have the most to lose.


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