Brilliant social media experiment?

This story has stuck in my craw for 4 days. Here’s Jim Cook Jr., online editor of South Jersey Times:

PILESGROVE TWP. – I really did not expect to win the Woodstown-Pilesgrove Board of Education election.

My campaign lasted less than 24 hours.

It didn’t cost me a cent.

All I used was a few Facebook status updates saying “Write me in for Woodstown-Pilesgrove School Board candidate.”

This is a pretty cool social media story, made more interesting because it’s a dead tree journalist telling it. We elected a great candidate to school board in a similar fast write-in campaign for an empty seat in Flemington last year. But there’s a big difference between that race and Cook’s. Our candidate wanted the seat and intended to serve.  

Cook’s got a brother with a November 5 birthday who voted the next day in his first-ever presidential election. Dissecting the sample ballot with him, Cook noticed a vacancy on the local school board. On what sounds like a whim, he launched a 24-hour write-in campaign; eight asks on Facebook, requesting people write in his name.

He won.

The sad commentary on low voter turnout for school board is how easy it is to win; a lesson progressives shouldn’t forget both for its opportunities and as a warning of how easily whackjobs can get themselves elected to muck up your local school.

Cook’s friends said he’d bring “fresh perspective”.They’re probably right. He sounds like an interesting guy. And he looks young; school boards need to feel the presence of the more recently-educated.

But Cook has no intention of serving, taking a victory lap at the office and filing this flashy story. But he’s a journalist and says he’d have to quit his job to take the seat. Meh.

I love the social media lesson of this story, and I’d have loved to see somebody as obviously creative as Cook elected. But even a seat nobody else seems to want is too important to play with. Imagine what might have happened if Cook Jr. had lent his social media chops to somebody who actually wanted to help steer the local school?

Any of those knocking around in Woodstown-Pilesgrove?  

Comment (1)

  1. Bertin Lefkovic

    …the problem isn’t that nobody wants to serve on boards of education or that so few people vote in board of education elections or on school budgets, but that we allow something as important as education be controlled to the degree that it is by elected officials, most of whom have no background in or understanding of education.

    There is a role for government in education and a time and place for the democratic process to enable residents of a community to have some say over how their schools are run, but at the moment, it is far too much.  Professionals who know much more about education have far too little of a say over how their schools are run.

    Is it possible that less democracy and less of a demand for accountability, especially by a population-at-large that only knows the difference between a failing school and a successful school by aggregated standardized test scores, and more trust in educated and trained professionals is the answer?


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