Two community problems in the news this week — underfunded school curricula and the refusal of voters to fund a community center — and the assured nitpickers who don't care about either, made me think of the Elvis Costello song: "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding?" To many in this valley, the desire for better-educated students and a more cohesive community are ideas to poke fun at. And therein lies the problem.
Last Sunday's Sentinel carried a story by Katie Langford about the sad state of school curricula in District 51. The essentials: textbooks and curricula in a broad range of grade levels and subject areas had not been updated in 10-20 years (some not since 1996, some never!); teachers "scavenging" for free lesson plans on the internet; nearly all of District 51's curriculum out of step with current state standards; local students scoring below the state average on standardized tests; local students meeting or exceeding expectations at a rate well below the state average.
Langford's timeline showing when District 51 last purchased new curriculum by subject was especially disturbing. Science materials haven't been updated since exoplanets were discovered, since the human genome was mapped, since gravitational waves were detected, or since dinosaurs were determined to have feathers. Psychology materials miss the last decade-plus of research on neuroscience, social science, behavioral science, and cognitive dissonance. Environmental science materials miss more than 10 years of advancements in climate, ecosystem, evolution, and oceanography research. Some history materials miss the entire post-9/11 political, economic, and international relations landscape.
This paper's editorial on April 2 ("OK isn't good enough") articulated a critical point: "Celebrating District 51's capacity to finally deliver up-to-date teaching materials should leave every adult in this valley cold." We shouldn't celebrate a "rise to mediocrity." We should reject a cynical acceptance that "OK is good enough."
Yesterday I read with dismay that Grand Junction voters rejected Measure 2C's proposal to build a community center proposal. Sadly, I saw it coming. Letters to the editor and You-Said-Its here in the Sentinel all had some version of "No new taxes!" or "Why should I pay for someone else's stuff?" with a smattering of "Why should I trust City Council with my money?" I saw much of the same (with more colorful language) on social media.
Cities large and small around the country (and the Western Slope itself!) are realizing that building public gathering places increases youth engagement, gets seniors more socially involved, reduces crime, and generally creates strong community bonds. Yet Grand Junction can't get past its phobia of paying for someone else's lunch.
I understand this community has strong conservative roots. What I don't understand is its peculiar preoccupation with maintaining isolation and tightfistedness.
I pay for the streetlights in your neighborhood; you pay for park equipment where my kids play. I pay for the AP classes your granddaughter takes; you pay for the toddler swim lessons my daughter loves. I pay for Medicare for your aunt; you pay for the aircraft carrier where my friend is deployed. I pay for the stretch of freeway you drive every day to work; you pay for the downtown sculptures I walk by on my way to work. That's how this thing called society works. If you'd like the alternative, please research Thomas Hobbes' "state of nature."
We celebrate individuals selflessly helping others as the best of us. Yet we can't fathom structuring society's expenses in a way that leans into that potential for goodness. We demand proof that students "need" textbooks made in this century; we scoff that a community center isn't worth our tax dollars. But we'd love to read a story about someone donating books to schools, or volunteering in exercise classes for disabled seniors.
My high school football coach had a saying: "You're either getting better, or you're getting worse. You never stay the same." The world and everyone in it are in some form of motion. You may think you're remaining static, but people are passing you by. And I worry that Grand Junction's obsession with "keeping things the same" is leaving us in the dust.
I'll finish with lyrics from the Elvis Costello song that's been on mind: "So where are the strong? And who are the trusted? And where is the harmony?" It takes community investment to build strength, to promote trust, to create harmony. There's nothing "funny" about wanting that for our children and our neighbors.
Sean Goodbody is a Grand Junction attorney representing injured workers across western Colorado. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.