Friday, November 5, 2004
The Concord-Carlisle High School's library is such an important educational resource for the students that the after-school hours cut last year should be reinstated. Kids waste hours waiting for the late bus with no good place to study.
School is dismissed at 2:15 p.m., and the late bus leaves at 5:15 p.m. A student who stays after school to get help from a teacher or attend an extra-curricular event is often finished by 3 o'clock. Since the high school library now closes at 3 p.m., students wait in the cafeteria until the late bus. The cafeteria is safe, but it is also cavernous and noisy, and meets no one's definition of a good-quality study environment. Many kids do not even try to study — they spend the hours roaming Concord or hanging out with friends.
This does not strike me as a situation parents and teachers would have purposely designed. It is the cumulative result of several budget cuts, each small and probably made with reluctance.
Both the library and the bus service were better in the past. Before last year, the library stayed open until 4 p.m. supervised by a library assistant. A few years ago there were two 5 o'clock bus routes in Carlisle. Jo Pedato, CCHS manager of transportation, explained they were consolidated into one route, which then lengthened the ride home for Carlisle students. Once the spring sports season ends, there is no late bus at all, and students who need after-school help with their studies in the closing weeks of the school are out of luck. Many years ago, there were both 4 o'clock and 5 o'clock late buses to Carlisle.
So why not just buy my teenager a car and forget about it? It is true that compared to 20 years ago, many more of the older students drive to school. However, that does not justify ignoring the problem that exists for those who must rely on bus transportation, or on parents picking them up on the way home from work.
What about the Concord town library? At the moment that building is closed for renovation, but if open, it would be an excellent study environment. It is located one mile from CCHS. Walking the two-mile round-trip is very pleasant on a sunny September afternoon, but is a less realistic option during bad weather. When the Concord town library reopens in January, it might be helpful if the 5 o'clock school bus added a stop there to pick up students on the way to Carlisle.
Bringing back the 4 o'clock late bus would be great, but may be difficult. Pedato thought it might require hiring an additional driver, because all the current drivers were busy doing the Concord Schools' routes at 4 p.m. A year or two ago the Carlisle Recreation Commission explored staffing a bus but ran into restrictions imposed by the CCHS bus drivers' contract.
Keeping the high school library open until 4 or 5 p.m. (at least a few days a week) seems like one improvement that has a modest cost and would benefit students in both Concord and Carlisle.
Behind enemy lines
As I write this article, November 2 is still three days away, so I don't know who won the election. I face the outcome with an overwhelming sadness for what I see as the damage to the democratic process already wrought, even in our own little town, by this seemingly endless campaign. We will move on from Election Day with cheaper expectations of our political leaders as role models. Even worse, at a time when public opinion is so evenly divided and we most need an honest exchange of ideas, how the public discourse has deteriorated!
Facts, if not blatantly misstated, have been so twisted that candidates' attention must be diverted to correct the distortions. This type of misdirection undermines the free, informed give-and-take that forms the basis of democracy. In effect, it silences an opposing opinion. As John Stuart Mill wrote in On Liberty, "If the opinion is right, [we] are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth; if wrong, [we] lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth produced by its collision with error."
Further, as if people are terrified by skepticism, moderation seems to have died. This is the greatest loss, as the tone of the discourse itself affects how willing people are to listen. Listening is the first step in finding the truth that most often lies between two extreme positions. The more vituperative the language, the quicker the knee-jerk reaction against it, and the harder it is to find the compromise that is often the loftiest by-product of democracy. It's okay to play hardball; it's imperative to play fair.
The extent to which political leaders are perceived to play by the rules sets the tone for how the rank and file interact with the competition, the drive-by vandalism of signs being just one case in point. Prevailing ethics extend beyond the political realm. More than half of the students in my husband's freshman class in a local college think it's all right to cheat if you don't believe you'll get caught. This statistic remained true even after he suggested that they should answer three questions when faced with an ethical dilemma: Is your action something you wouldn't mind your friends, children or parents knowing? Would you want it carved on your tombstone? How would you feel if it were printed in a Boston Globe editorial?
Political education is a lifelong process. When does idealism end and cynicism begin? Contrast my 16-year-old's reaction to the distortion of facts by shrugging, "What else do you expect from a politician?" with my 11-year-old's heartbreaking, "They're supposed to tell the truth." Imagine what would happen if today's contender for public office had, in Mill's words, "the calmness to see and honesty to state what his opponents and their opinions really are, exaggerating nothing to their discredit, keeping nothing back which tells, or can be supposed to tell, in their favor." Shame on those who would lead us for sinking below this level of morality. Shame on us for tolerating it and, even worse, for rewarding it.
© 2004 The