Windmillin'

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Where politics and faith dance in the shadow of the windmill.

Mapping the School Race (and our City)

As so often happens, the School Board election, now concluded, functioned as a sort of proxy conflict for various parties in the city.

There were two challengers  from the civic-Dem coalition: Raynard Ross and Monica Randles, both enjoying endorsement and monetary support from the Kent County Dems and the local education union.

Opposed has been a cluster of candidates favored by the Chamber/GOP interests: incumbent Catherine Mueller, a leader in the present direction of the schools; one enjoying fairly explicit Republican support, David Clark; and a representative from the older, broad civic leadership cadre, former Urban League president Walter Brame.

The conventional read on such a split is that of a division between those supporting the GRPS administration and Bernard Taylor, and those favoring a change of direction and emphasis. It is better, perhaps to think of the divisions taking place along two axes:

Axis One: Reform v. Continuity

The obvious split is between Taylor and the teachers (and their allies). This, however masks the underlying issue. Like him or not, Taylor has pushed a number of reform issues focused on the general schools. Teachers and parents from the specialty programs have pushed back. This battle has been fought along several fronts, beginning with a real rift between the administration and the teachers, a rift further compounded by the consolidation of programs and closures of schools — both creating great displeasure on the west side of the city. The split gets fought over essentially educational policy issues, such as H grade or blended classes, overlay this with the conflict between Taylor and the teaching staff. For the neighborhoods this is a question of preserving conventional traditional schools, for teachers there is the continued disruption made all the more painful of the way things once were. For residents and staff alike the memory of what once (imagined) was, serves as a sort of grief. This was the axis of the last school board battle, and it has taken the same shape in some unfortunate ads this cycle as well.

Axis Two: Sending v. Stakeholder

But there is a second division that is no less significant for Grand Rapids Public Schools, that of the division between the sending community — those homes that have their children in the general education programs of the school system — and the stakeholder community with children in specialized, charter, schools  of choice or private settings. This latter division is one riven by issues of race and class. The sending community is predominantly, overwhelmingly minority and poor; the stakeholder community is better off, conventionally middle class, with many choosing to stay in the city. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Elections, Horace Mann, , , , , , , , ,

A course for the future?

Thursday starts the two-day event, Mackinac on the Grand, aka The West Michigan Regional Policy Conference, sponsored by the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce. Nominally the conference is to advance the cause of West Michigan in the halls of Lansing, to articulate an agenda, to schmooze and of course, to lobby. Underneath however, a second issue lurks: how will West Michigan and the Midwest broadly deal with the issue of globalization?

The question at hand is not West Michigan v. Detroit; our business climate against the auto-dominated east. Rather it is West Michigan’s place in the global economy. As Richard Longworth notes in Caught in the Middle (more on that later), the golden days of the Midwest are behind it. In this new era, there will be winners and losers, “dislocations of people and places” is how John Austin relates it.

The old heavy manufacturing model is dead and in its place rise new sources of value: business services, hospitals, universities, tourism, communications. (Interestingly, these are the same themes being picked up by Dan Scripps, candidate for MI-101).

But if the region stands to shine, it also shares in the general reaction of denial found throughout the Midwest. There remains the understandable longing for the now departed past, with its factories and flourishing farms, and of course its older form of politics. There is in all this the danger, too, of a defeatist attitude that finds itself content with being a “mediocre people living in mediocre cities” (Longworth, 48).

Throughout the executive summaries two themes play against each other: the old one of politics as usual, backward glancing, a politics (and policy) of denial; and a new one centered on the questions of what must we do to meet our future.

Who will win? The vote is Friday.

Tomorrow, we will look at each of the eight summaries individually.

Filed under: Michigan, , , , ,

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