Instances of Discovery

Since August 2007 I have been a monthly columnist for the St. Cloud Times. My theme, taken from the mission statement of the Collegeville Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research, is “the renewal of human community.” The columns are republished here with permission of the St. Cloud Times.

Column #110.  First published in the St. Cloud Times online Sep. 2, 2016; in print Sep. 4

We’re back where we were a year ago: The board of education of the St. Cloud Area Public Schools is asking us to approve a levy referendum to build a new Technical High School and renovate Apollo High School.

Except: We’re not back where we were a year ago.

Much has happened in the meantime.  Now we can expand our vision, which is no longer ensnared in a thicket of short-term concerns.

The district has addressed those concerns:

  • There have been 16 listening sessions, all of which included people who voted “no” in 2015.
  • A broad-based community advisory group has met with the superintendent since January.
  • Subcommittees have dealt directly with specific issues arising out of the 2015 referendum — huge sticker shock (the scope has been scaled back); costs of remodeling Tech as a high school (construction experts conclude it’s unreasonable); repurposing Tech (as a district administration and welcome center); Clark Field’s future (eventually a city facility) — and making the answers clear to the public will be a major effort of the next several weeks.  (Disclosure: I am on one of the strategy committees.)

Reasons for a new Tech and renovated Apollo are pretty much the same as they were a year ago, but the case is now clearer, both in its details and in its setting within the larger context of education for the 21st century.

Indeed, it is this larger context — educational outcomes for the innovation era — that is the main rationale to vote “yes” on the referendum, both parts of it — new Tech and renovated Apollo.

A speaker at Tech’s dedication on May 1, 1917, said, “Education is keeping step with the march of progress. New occasions bring new duties.” This is just as true of the new occasions in the early 21st century as it was of the occasions that were then new in the early 20th.

Knowledge in the 21st century needs to be tied directly and immediately to the solving of problems: What can you do with what you know?

Space for education is not simply a matter of square footage.  Innovative projects to solve problems — this requires a different blueprint of spaces from the image of school as students sitting in rows with a teacher standing before a blackboard. That old model was engineered more than a century ago to produce a workforce for a world that no longer exists.

School buildings need to be designed for flexible and interactive and integrated learning communities.  This provides an environment where skills that matter these days for work, learning, and citizenship — including the motivation to ask new questions and to persevere in the search for applicable answers — can flourish.

We remember with gratitude our ancestors who voted for — and paid for — Tech High School.

Those of us today...

  • who understand that school buildings must accommodate — and even reflect — an education that prepares students with the knowledge, skills, and attitudes for the world of today and tomorrow;
  • who, even if they no longer have (or maybe never had) children in the district’s schools, nevertheless get the point of the ancient Greek proverb, “Society grows great when people plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in;”
  • who — citizens and business owners — had reservations last year but have been won over by the district’s careful address to their questions;
  • who imagine the gratitude of students and parents and employers and the whole community ten and 25 and 50 and 100 years from now for our bold and visionary action, and who want to be remembered that way —

To you I want to say this: “Decisions are made by those who show up.” This statement is demonstrably true, whether initially uttered by Benjamin Franklin or Harry Truman or Woody Allen. (It has been attributed to them and several others.)

In this case, the decision to move ahead with a project that has been talked about for at least two decades will happen if — and only if — those who vote “yes” Nov. 8 (or sooner by absentee, starting Sept. 23) are in the majority.

There are many reasons to vote this year. Whether it’s the most important election of our lifetimes — maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. The claim has likely been made for every election since 1789. But 2016 is undoubtedly important, and not just because what happens nationally will determine the future course of our country.

The ripple effect of the decision on the school district referendum will extend well beyond our lifetimes. Please join me in showing up to make sure the decision is “yes” on both counts — for a new Tech and a renovated Apollo — a decision we can be proud of, one for which we will be gratefully remembered.