W.C. Fields said to never trust a man who doesn’t drink. I’d like to offer a slightly different version of this epigram: Never trust a person who doesn’t love ice cream.

July is National Ice Cream Month, and as an American, I did my patriotic duty this summer by sampling a variety of flavors that could fill a small dairy barn. No sacrifice is too great.

In the quest to find the best ice cream in the world, it is hard not to notice that every ice cream shop starts and ends with chocolate and vanilla. According to the National Dairy Association, vanilla edges out chocolate slightly in preference polls. I hold no grudge against those who prefer a flavorless frozen treat, but chocolate ice cream is clearly the better choice.

For we old-timers who can recall a simpler time, buying ice cream at the store was like buying a Ford in the 1920s— any color you want as long as it’s black—except it was any flavor you wanted as long as it was chocolate or vanilla. Sure, there was an effort to force strawberry on us in the Neapolitan carton. However, every kid I know carefully carved out the chocolate and vanilla using skills honed playing the Operation Game, successfully leaving all the pink stuff behind for Mom or Dad.

As a self-taught student of the history of frozen delights, I’m not sure when the world started moving away from this binary decision. Yes, given only two choices, vanilla is a slight winner over chocolate. But Baskin-Robbins opened our minds to a score and a half of flavors ranging from bubble gum to fudge brownie. It’s not a binary world anymore.

In fact, given the choice of chocolate, vanilla, or something else, ice cream lovers crave something else by a wide margin. Those two flavors are still the overall favorite, but most folks order something different. Cookies and cream, butter pecan, mint chocolate chip, cookie dough, and chocolate chip fulfill the frozen desires of the 75 percent in the “something else” category.

Many of you now are thinking that you accidentally picked up a copy of Ice Cream Monthly and not ASBJ. What does ice cream have to do with serving as a school board member? The answer is: What if we substituted blue or red for chocolate or vanilla? The media loves to show maps of America divided into a binary choice: this state is blue, that state is red. What those maps fail to show is all the flavors in the middle. Sure, a certain percentage of Americans are 100 percent blue or red in their beliefs, but I contend that most of us live somewhere in the middle. We like our vanilla with some crumbled chocolate cookies, our chocolate with a delicious ribbon of marshmallow.

While America is a purple country, it’s so much easier to talk about red and blue. Social media platforms design their algorithms to push us to the extremes. Media and social media take a lazy approach to analysis because binary is easier. Nuance is hard.

Serving on a school board may be the best way to avoid the politics of red and blue. School boards must deal with challenges that require listening, deliberating, and finding common ground. Board members learn quickly that adopting curriculum, arbitrating suspensions and expulsions, setting school boundaries, passing a bond issue, and cutting expenses don’t come with preset answers. Board members know that a binary choice of chocolate or vanilla doesn't satisfy the needs of their constituents.

Dairy Queen was once known for two flavors (discounting the almost forgotten butterscotch) but with the advent of the Blizzard, the answer to “Can I take your order?” is far more likely to be neither of those. School boards, like DQ, understand that listening to the communities and customers usually means finding a nice spot in the middle. Make mine an M&M Blizzard, please.

John Heim is the executive director and CEO of NSBA.

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2020 State of the Association

Full of challenge and change, 2020 was like no other year. NSBA's State of the Association provides a snapshot of the association's advocacy and member services work as well as our ongoing transformation.