7 miles to school-up hill both ways

A few weeks ago my son asked me at the dinner table if I would be able to come in and talk to his 3rd grade class. I said, "does your teacher know about this?" And he just sorta shrugged. A week later he said his teacher wanted to know when I would be in. I guess he knew what he was talking about. So I gave him a date to let his teacher know when I would be able to come in and talk about being an architect.

Then I found out the day before that I would have an hour to fill! Oh...uh, ok. And that a doctor friend of mine went in with props the day before. I don't have props-everything is computerized these days. So, I dug out my architectural sketch book from 6th grade (yes, 6th grade!) and a bunch of my college drafting tools, a set of blueprints and cool looking drawings from college and headed in to talk to...now...the entire 3rd grade. I asked what the kids thought were tools I would use and one young man said "imagination". I was impressed as heck. At the halfway point I unrolled a giant sheet of paper and pinned it to the wall and explained that they were all going to be architects now. We designed a restaurant and named it after their elementary school. They've been sending home thank you letters with some of their own designs on the back-they are so cool.

I asked if they had any questions. They asked how many buildings had I designed and what were some of them. So I started listing off some that they would know. Then they asked if I had designed their new school. I said no, but since we had been talking about community involvement, I said I did provide one very important element to the site design.

The school sits on a fairly rural looking, rolling hills kind of site...just off a county road that is lined with massive old maple trees planted by a farmer in about 1880. This is probably one of the most picturesque roads in the whole county because the giant trees stretch out for about a half mile. The school corporation's engineer decided that the access street to the new school and platted subdivision needed to have extensive decel lanes on either side of the county road for buses. I was the councilman of that district at that time, as well as on the plan commission and urban forestry committee; the building commissioner called me and said that all of the trees on the side of the road the school was going to be built were marked for removal. Then other calls began to come in from residents in the area. We managed to get the work stopped long enough for some common sense to settle in....and at what could have been a violent meeting in the jobsite trailer.....I suggested that instead of wanton destruction, a three-way stop be installed by the city eliminating the need for decel lanes and regrading. Both the county and city leaders were pleased. All I got from the school corporation was this: "it better not add any days to our already tight schedule!"

"Uh, I just saved you upwards of $70k for an idea that your high-paid engineers evidently couldn't come up with" is what I wanted to say. Still waiting for the thank you.

The kids and the teachers applauded when I said I had saved the trees that we were overlooking from the classroom we were assembled in. I relayed this story to a friend who told me that he didn't think the superintendent liked me....thought of me as an idealist. Which kinda honked me off to be honest. In their massive expansion program heated in debate, I was the only elected official in the city or county to come out publicly and support the project.....rack it up to idealism.

I have to be honest. I've been a bit on edge lately with guys my senior (and I'm 40+!)denouncing me for being an idealist. Or for ignoring some pretty common sense approaches to solve problems....which seems the opposite of being idealistic. As I told the 3rd graders, our future leaders, gathered there that they should get involved in their community because it's the only way to make it a better place to live........I felt like I was straight-up lying to them. Maybe I should have given them a few qualifiers.....like leave your ideas at the door. Imagination? Young man, you won't be needing that any longer....it will only get you excommunicated.

Maybe it's just Indiana-or maybe just Republicania County-but it's pretty clear to me that if you have the wrong people in place who are more concerned about control than leadership....you'll stagnate and drive your young minds away to where they can be free to imagine and contribute to communities who welcome them. The Indiana brain drain doesn't have to exist but I think the good ol' boys are very comfortable with that giant sucking sound.


jimgrey said…
A couple things...

First, mark my words, kids will now be coming up to you for years to ask you about your work. I went to talk to my youngest child's class a few years ago about my former work as an author. Today I have kids coming up to me at the grocery store saying, "Hi, Mr. Grey! Have you written any more books?" You have left a real impression, count on it.

Second, Kurt, there are buttheads everywhere, not just in Republicana County and in Indiana. Half of the secret to a successful life is learning how to deal with that. Sometimes it's about building coalitions and learning to compromise, and other times it's accepting that you've done your best but did not prevail. And once in a while you really do get to "do it right." You must savor those moments and wring every last bit of joy from them, and let that joy propel you to keep working and trying.
vanilla said…
Good for you. Third graders are wonderful people and I know you made a lasting impression on someone-- or someones.

Jim's statement is so cogent and apropos that there is nothing much for me to add.

(Still puzzling over the riddle. Hint?)

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