So Dark the Con of Man

January 17th, 2008 by Editor B

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.

15 Responses to “So Dark the Con of Man”

  1. David Says:

    How loudly did Xy say, “So dark the con of man”? What kind of reaction did it get?

    I really take exception to the characterization of the main library downtown. I used it frequently.

  2. Kirsten Says:

    I’m a public librarian, so I’m concerned by your friend’s characterization of the public library. The Main Library certainly is NOT “just a place for the homeless to wash up” — that certainly does happen, but other citizens also read, study, and enjoy themselves.

    The branch libraries are nothing like Main anyway, much more neighborhood-like. I’m sure, also that school security could help keep troublemakers out of the lib. New Orleans Public Library has had a successful school/library partnership with Martin Luther King school for several years.

    Your friend may be onto something with the contractor pipeline, though. Disaster capitalism, doncha know.

  3. Editor B Says:

    David: Xy’s remark was made when just the three of us were chatting afterward in the parking lot, so it didn’t get heard by the crowd.

  4. Alan Gutierrez Says:

    Editor V

    Thanks for the run down. Did you keep a copy of the survey? It sounds about par for the course. Very suggestive surveys to promote a particular vision.

    Alan

  5. Anthony Says:

    I missed the meeting. I guess I’ll never know what is to become of Jeff. Or have my voice heard on the matter. I found the idea that you got one shot to give input pretty silly. When are they releasing the discussions?

  6. rickngentilly Says:

    this kind of stuff has allways felt like a beat down to make me and others cynical and give up.

    the point of view that i am seeking these days is to keep on trudgeing on.

    i really think we are on the brink of being in the drivers seat and wearing this bullshit down in the next ten years.

    i never gave a rats ass about this crap before katrina and always accepted it as status quo.

    post katrina i feel like a nutria in jefferson parish’s ditches.

    take small bites and dont let up.

    divided we fall yall.

  7. mominem Says:

    Bingler has been pushing all sorts of collaborative multi purpose schemes for years.

    As far as a contractor, that really is a bit far out, most contractors would be able to build most anything. More likely Bingler was pushing his own vision and if he had someone in mind it would be for his firm to get a gig as chief guru.

  8. HammHawk Says:

    That kind of survey shows how difficult it is to write a truly good survey. People study for years to learn how to do it right, and yet most of the world thinks it’s just common sense.

    Xy’s line is classic; I hope she doesn’t mind if I steal it for those times I think someone is being FoS but I don’t quite want to say that.

  9. Editor B Says:

    Hammy, I encourage everyone to steal Xy’s line. It’s sheer genius. It could become a cultural phenomenon.

    Alan, no, I’m afraid I did not keep a copy of the survey, but I’m sure they could be procured at any of the upcoming meetings which will repeat this fiasco in other districts.

  10. Alan Gutierrez Says:

    Here’s the dark con of man:

    http://www.neworleanscitybusiness.com/UpToTheMinute.cfm?recID=15031

    In order to build these new schools with green space an senior centers, we’re going to have to raze the old ones.

  11. Garvey Says:

    It’s from the Da Vinci Code.

  12. Editor B Says:

    Garvey! I can’t believe you gave away the secret! Now I will have to send an evil albino monk to kill you.

  13. Garvey Says:

    Or a rabbit.

  14. Think New Orleans » Have You Heard the Latest Joke In Civic Paricipation? Planning the Future of School Facilities as They Are Demolished Says:

    [...] Read through the experience of Bart Everson in his post So dark the con of man. [...]

  15. john Says:

    im almost homeless now would the library be a bad choice for an exteneded visit bordem can bring greatness or give it away either way he who thinks about helping but does not try is should not cast the first stone in a act of justice.

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