Neighborhood Schools, Local Business

Over at The League, the (extra)ordinary Mr. Kain has a splendid piece on “the concept of the school itself as an essential part of one’s community.” It is, rest assured, well worth the read. (At Front Porch Republic, Professor Fox offered, a couple of months ago, the very interesting “A Partially Localist Defense of Public Education”, wherein, discussing Mike Huckabee and school consolidation, he notes very reasonable, troublesome reasons to support consolidation; that’s neither here nor there (Well, not here, but maybe there!), but the posting is worth your time, too.) My favorite passage from E.D.:

I’d like to see, quite literally, corner schools – kind of like the days of “corner stores” which have now all vanished in the face of big grocery chains and super Wal*Marts. Because corner schools would be personable. They’d be right there in your neighborhood. Elementary schools tend to be closer to this model. For some reason we go from a dozen or so elementary schools in a mid-size town to one or two high schools. It doesn’t make sense. And if you’re worried about sports, there’s really no reason why schools couldn’t team up to create a good football team. But even better than that, you’d have lots more sports teams and lots more kids would get a chance to play – even if the teams themselves weren’t quite as star-studded, and the games were not quite as good. Still, it would level the playing field, so to speak. And that’s a good thing.

One thing upon which E.D. touches not (though one can infer it, perhaps, from this earlier line: “Schools should be more responsive to their communities needs and vice versa.”) is the particular connectivity between the school and the local business community. Before the 1974-75 academic year, students at North Judson-San Pierre High School (a product of the dreaded mid-century consolidation movement: San Pierre could hardly support a high school, by the advanced standards of the education technocrats) attended classes, concerts, and basketball games in the middle of town, at the corner of Keller Ave. and Central Ave, just a block from Lane St., our main drag. (The football team played on a field now replaced by residential blocks some number of streets to the west; the baseball team, on the same large town block, on WPA-built Norwayne Field.)

My father, oftenly enough, has spoken of lunch hours spent at Pell’s Sweet Shop, the local diner at Lane St. and Adair St. (See map linked to above.), to which he and friends would race to save a booth and where they’d play Edgar Winter’s “Frankenstein”, Grand Funk Railroad’s “Flight of the Phoenix”, and Deep Purple’s classic “Smoke on the Water” on the jukebox, all three for a quarter. Old Man Pellegrini worked the fryer, calling out “French-a-fry, French-a-fry!” in broken English between quarrelsome verbal bouts with his wife. In the mid-Seventies, in time for my father’s class to be the first to graduate, the school board replaced this downtown facility with a presumably state–of–the–art (Read: Barns–with–lean-tos–looking bit of totalitarian architecture; insufficiently fenestrated, natch!) building on the southwestern edge of town, with cornfields on two sides!

The Keller Avenue building then housed middle school students — to wit, continued to operate, but not with students likely to be trusted to venture forth from an open campus for lunch —, whilst the secondary-education students had no choice but to lunch daily on remarkably cardboard-esque mass-produced cafeteria food — served by ladies kindly enough, but many packs of Virginia Slims beyond their prime, with all the enthusiasm of a reluctant mortician into whose hands the family business fell —, imprisoned (a verb all too regrettably à propos of the school’s æsthetic character) by the closed-campus restrictions I assume were imposed de jure (By my time in high school, anyway, the school compelled students to remain on the premises at lunch, and otherwise, without a legitimate excuse.), and, certainly, were discouraged, de facto, from enjoying lunch served by a local restaurateur by the reliance upon an automobile (paired with a relatively short lunch hour) that this anti-communitarian location required of students. The students lost “choice”; the diners and restaurants, customers.

Troublingly enough, returning our schools to neighborhoods — or, in smaller towns, nearer our business districts — is, presently, rather impractical. Doubtless, the school district here could not at all easily build new schools in downtown North Judson, and if they could, likely would construct buildings so atrocious that one easily would mistake them for anything but. (See here about architectural ineptitude in North Judson.) This is saddening. Notwithstanding the very real objections found in Prof. Fox’s disquisition, E.D’s case is quite compelling; what I’ve discussed hereabove only strengthens it. Methinks an incredibly sensible, could-be-practical way to help to revive our local economies without furthering the often onerous regulations employed — sensibly enough — to level the playing field for local businesses is to bring our schools back. As Mr. Kain properly proclaims, the school is an essential part of the community, and as Mr. Kunstler, that pugnacious prognosticator of Peak Oil and maligner of modern massacres of the public realm, echoing Mr. Wendell Berry of Kentucky, asserted, in The Geography of Nowhere, “Community is Economy.”

Post-script: I’d certainly love to see a return of Catholic education, even if only at the elementary (and middle-school) level, as was the case in the past, to North Judson. Paul Barnes, commenting on E.D’s piece, broaches this topic.

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No Faith in the Fed

From an article in today’s Post

After his speech, Bernanke was asked when he expected the economy would recover.

“My forecasting record is about the same as the win-loss record of the Washington Nationals,” he said.

In four years in Washington, the Team Formerly Known As The Expos have a record of 284-363, only in the first season in our nation’s capital even reaching the .500 mark. Exactly .500. I suppose that hearing a member of the Leviathan admit to being an idiot, rather than denying an incontrovertible truth, is somewhat refreshing, but that we continue to permit someone with such an abysmal ability to predict things that, seemingly, are within his realm of expertise, particularly when these are such vital issues, is bafflingly sad.

End the Fed. It’s little more than another bastion of centralization, anyway.

We should recall, too, that the Constitution only explicitly provides for the coining of money by Congress; no provision for exists permitting the Federal government to printmoney. I have no interest in advocating the return to the gold or silver standard; however, our Founding Fathers certainly seem to have recognized the need to tie our money to something sounder than the word of the government. I’m just sayin’.

“Reviving Our Sense of Place, Our Priorities of Localism, Agrarianism, and Self-government”, Part II

Why, then, a “Jeffersonian” New Urbanism? (Part One.)

A few years have passed since I last read any of the Anti-Federalist Papers; lately, slowly, I’ve been getting back to that, starting with introductory material from editor Ralph Ketcham and some of the important Constitutional debates. To me, one of the greatest failings of the Anti-Federalists (excluding the eventual ratification of the Constitution) is that, though they succeeded in adding the Bill of Rights to the Constitution, thereby, theoretically, providing protections of individual liberties, lost in the shuffle was any notion of community rights. As I’ve stressed elsewhere,

Gone is Aristotle’s zoon politikon, and the Philosopher’s fundamental precept, “every community is established for the sake of some GOOD”, specifically the common good, replaced by the Every-man-a-king doctrine of liberalism. Without the State, its origins in necessary contractarianism, mankind, by the liberal creed, exists in a perpetual state of war. Contra liberalism (and, thus, libertarianism), conservatism, rightly conceived, follows Aristotle, appreciating the importance of the individual but recognizing that outside of community, man enters into what Berry calls “vast meaninglessness, […] the freedom of our vices.”

“Community rights” is a dangerously imprecise term, just the sort of concept that, improperly understood, could lead to collectivism. Nonetheless, the idea that communities possess rights, to which individual rights should be subordinated, or at least by which individual rights should be crafted, guided, and restrained is, I think, essential to conservatism. (I’m channeling Wendell Berry here, for sure.) Though the successes of the the Anti-Federalists manifested themselves primarily in the form of defenses of the individual (and the states), these decentralists were not merely libertarians, something that Larison has noted.

One particular line from Ketcham’s introduction, referring to Anti-Federalist “John DeWitt,” echoes ceaselessly in my mind, reaffirming the very communitarian nature of anti-federalism:

“Each ‘district,’ furthermore, would be a town or ward or region conscious of its own, particular identity rather than being some amorphous, arbitrary geographic entity.”

[My emphasis. – NPO]

Then, to return to the task at hand, to wit, replying to E.D. Kain’s post, I submit that we conservatives must embrace a New Urbanism that not only “believes in community,” but specifically one that recognizes that our “districts” must be “conscious of [their] own, particular ident[ies]”, rather than being mere political divisions. Again, this goes back to my point in Part I about the problems inherent in the coerced integration espoused by some planners. We need to embrace a variant of New Urbanism that not only seeks to define each community, but to empower it — to bring as much political power to the lowest level possible, in addition to the (moderate) cultural control (A bogeyman term? C’est la vie!) of the community. (See, in Patrick J. Ford’s “Edmund Burke, Anarcho-Conservative,” Burke’s admiration for the anarcho-conservative Massachusetts colony.) It’s not just about community, but about a community’s control over its own fate.

Along with the decentralization of power and the community-facilitating traditional urban design and architecture (contextually appropriate, of course!) of Anti-Federalist New Urbanism, we must espouse Distributist(-esque) economics, Jeffersonian economic democracy.

One of my most serious complaints with New Urbanism in practice is that, for reasons of “necessity,” the otherwise localist bent of New Urbanism is all too often sacrificed on the economic front. Instead of Neighborhood Grocery Mart, we have a New Urbanist-friendly Safeway or, given the upper-middle-class predilection for New Urbanism, a “green” “neighborhood” Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s. Instead of Nathan’s Nocturnal Nook, we have Starbucks and a “neo-traditional” Borders. One cannot sincerely deny what benefits this has, but to substitute, for economic or other reasons, the national chain for the local and independent is to succumb to the short-term, unsustainable temptations of liberalism.

We replace natural cultural and economic diversity with the banality of ubiquity, thereby relegating local culture — and a truly vibrant economic market — to quaint nostalgia in the community museum and a few hole-in-the-wall establishments. We lose the material benefits of having the proprietors of the businesses that we patronize living amongst us — both the benefits of having income that stays in the community and having businesses that, their owners having real knowledge of the community, are responsive to the wants and needs of community members, as they members actually describe them, rather than as they “define” them with their wallets. When we support farmers’ markets and local grocers that contact directly with local farmers, we know that not only are we near the sources of our food (something that, sometimes, we can know even at the chain stores), but we know that the people who make the decisions about what local food we can buy have direct contact with that food for the duration of the journey from field to plate.

When our neighbors are our pharmacists, lumber guys, mechanics, and tailors, we can address concerns we have with their establishments, employees, or products without much of the redtape we may face when dealing with a corporation “owned” by thousands of shareholders and run by a suit-wearing MBA in Bentonville who knows nothing about a lube job, let alone the name of the mechanic who forget to put new oil into your engine after he drained the old lubricant.

Finally, we need this Distributism-infused New Urbanism because private property is, to quote Prof. Wilson, in his reply to Prof. Shiffman, “bound up with the activities of man’s pursuit of the good; consequently it can only be understood properly in terms of that end.” Without the widespread distribution of property championed by Belloc, et al., and Jefferson, we risk both political dominance by those in greatest possession of real property and the diminishing of many men who, deprived of property, become less able to pursue the good. No society, at the community level, the national level, or anywhere between, can survive, in the long-term, when plagued by these two serious ailments.

Economic Piranha

Random post-shower thought this morning:

Bringing a Walmart to town to stimulate economic development is something like replacing two dead fish in a tank with two piranha. They’ll replace the now-defunct life in the environment and, be they one male and one female, may even add additional life. They’ll also eat the other fish who already resided in the tank, remaining alone to occupy the previously full neighborhood.

Mighty Powerful: Professor Deneen on Black Friday

And, today, if we can identify the rampaging “consumers” who killed that poor, poor, undeserving man who sought to open the doors of Wal-Mart for minimum wage on Black Friday, we will exonerate ourselves from any stain that we may all bear in assenting to a culture in which hordes stampede for cheap flat screen televisions and microwaves, convinced that what matters most is what we have, not who we are.

God forgive us all.

Read it all, here. It’s well worth the time, as his conclusion suggests.