I cajoled Xy into attending our local meeting of the School Facilities Master Plan for Orleans Parish on Tuesday night.
It reminded me of the infamous “Summer of Planning.” Specifically it reminded me of the America Speaks sessions which I never attended (having already been burned out by the Lambert process) but which I read about on many local blogs.
I got the general sense of being a square peg in a round hole. We got a form on which we could indicate if we were parents or advocates, but “concerned citizen” was not an option. They had each table designated for a specific school, and you were supposed to sit at the table for the school you were interested in. There was no table for “all of them.”
We did some kind of silly exercise that involved talking to other people at our table about what we hoped the schools would be like in ten years. Then we were instructed to imagine a visitor coming to the future New Orleans and checking out the schools and being very impressed. As they leave the city, what’s their overall impression of the schools? We discussed this with the people at our table.
Then Steve Bingler got up and made a presentation. In 2006 Bingler was the target of many a blogger’s wrath — or at least skepticism. He derided the old “factory school” model and hyped a new model which combines public amenities with schools.
Then we all answered multiple-choice questions on a form, while discussing them with our group. The questions were phrased in such a way as to be extremely leading.
For example (paraphrase):
How far should the school be from green space?
__ The school should be adjacent to green space.
__ The school should be no more than __ blocks from green space.
__ Proximity to green space is not important.
And so forth, with questions about the proximity of other public amenities. After the presentation we’d seen, I imagine most people would check the first option for all these questions.
One of the people at my table was a friend I know vaguely — we served together on the board of a certain local nonprofit for a while. He was extremely skeptical and suspicious of all these questions, and tried to get those of us at his table to think carefully before just checking the first box. Is green space near a school really an advantage? After all there’s a lot of really good schools in Europe with no green space nearby. True enough, I countered, but proximity to green space would be nice, all other things being equal. But if we check that, will they skimp on something else?
This conversation got even more ridiculous when we discussed the possibility of a public library near the school. Have you seen what goes on at the main branch downtown? It’s just a place for homeless people to wash up. Do you really want adults like that coming in with the children? This led me to suggest a bathing facility for the homeless be co-located in the school.
After the meeting, we talked some more. He saw a nefarious plot here to funnel work to a contractor who specializes in building schools of this model, with the presentation and the questionnaire all rigged to produce the illusion of support for this model. He started to sound so paranoid that Xy finally exclaimed, “So dark the con of man!” which I thought was pretty funny.
But the thing is, my friend is usually pretty well-informed about such matters.