Tuesday, April 12, 2011

South Dakota and New York City, Some Differences And a Few Modest Suggestions

I realize that most comparisons with New York City are doomed.  We non-New Yorkers believe that Gotham's residents are a bit self-centered.  Ok, we think they're a lot self-centered.  For example, we think this map accurately reflects their view of America.


Then there's this Pace Picante Sauce Commercial.



There are of course the obvious differences.  New York City is, well, a city governed by a mayor.  South Dakota is a state governed by a governor.  New York's chief executive, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, is one of the richest people in America.  South Dakota's chief executive, Governor Dennis Daugaard, is not.

Today, I stumbled upon the largest difference.  Writing for the New York Review of Books, Diane Ravitch examines Bloomberg's efforts at education reform.  Ravitch concludes,
Creative destruction is now the rule, not stability. The Department treats schools like stores that can be easily closed and opened with a new name, rather than vital public institutions that need help and should be improved.
One should notice some obvious similarities.  Neither Bloomberg nor Daugaard view schools as "vital public institutions."  It's unclear if Governor Daugaard wants to treat "schools like stores," but it's clear that the Governor views them as expenses that need to be cut.  In both South Dakota and New York public schools "destruction is now the rule, not stability."

The most obvious difference is that Bloomberg's destruction is "creative" whereas Daugaard's is merely destructive.  Because I believe creativity is important and should be fostered, I offer the following modest suggestions to make Daugaard's assault on South Dakota's schools more creative.

This first one is too late, but Daugaard should have marketed his 6.6% budget cut as a 6.66% budget cut. Granted, more students might have been home schooled because the number 666 has some negative associations with the anti-Christ, but the symbolism would have been awesome (Revelation 13:18).  After all no one can buy or sell without the mark of beast (Revelation 13:16).  Schools are going to be able to buy any new supplies under the new budgets. The people who have been laid off are going to have a lot tougher time buying groceries.

Second, Daugaard could change his first name to Draco; it's not that different from Dennis  He seems to love the one size fits all approach to budget cuts.  South Dakota's Department of Education could add the standard that no students can pass a world history class until they could identify Draco's claim to fame or define draconian.

Third, the Governor could establish his small state bona fides and have South Dakota do something that's the complete opposite of an action that a big city school system has taken.  For example, a Chicago school has forbidden students to bring lunches made at home.  Daugaard could construct a budget that demands that schools fire all food service personal and have students bring their lunches.  Each school could add a version of Cupcake Wars to the curriculum.  I'm not sure that the show is educational but PTA bake sales should have improved product.

Finally, the Governor seems fond of political cliches.  In his inaugural, he uses several of them.  For example, he said, “Self-reliance is the essential complement of individual liberty,”  He also said that "it’s important not to abandon hard work" because work "gives us a sense of accomplishment and a feeling of self-worth; so it has many benefits. . . ."  While these phrases may be true or comforting, they most certainly qualify as cliches.  Movies such as Bull Durham illustrate that cliches need to be taught.  To help schools who have fewer staff members than they need, the Governor could create his own class and stream it over the web.  Not all of us will have a private tutor like Crash Davis.

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