Parks and Recreation

(and schools)

Suppose you are the student representative to a committee that has the power and the money to reform your school system. Describe your idea school system, including buildings, teachers, and any other aspects you find are important.

That's a test question, but from a rather unusual test. Dr Robert J. Steinberg, the director of Yale's Center for the Psychology of Abilities, Competences and Expertise, believes that there are three kinds of intelligence, only one of which, the analytical, is measured by today's standardized tests. Equally important to success in life, he holds, are practical intelligence - common sense inflected by experience - and creative intelligence, which he has designed the question above to assess. The obvious ingenuity of the question lies in its addressing a part of life familiar to anybody likely to take the test - that is, a student. Examiners can therefore assume that answers take off from a common point of view, that of the kind of school that most students attend.

I'm afraid that my answer to the question will display far more than the desirable quantum of creative intelligence.

To liven up the following description of my ideal school system, I write as though actual people had created it in an actual town. As if!

Several years ago, the Board of Education (BE) in the town of New Cambridge, faced with the need to find funding for a new swimming pool, considered a new member's unorthodox proposition. Instead of building the pool on the school campus, and bearing its entire cost, the Board would approach the town's Parks and Recreations Department (PRD) about siting it on a parking lot, operated by the PRD, adjacent to the school. The BE proposed that the PRD would build the pool with the needs of student teams in mind but also with those of different groups of townspeople, such as pre-schoolers, the elderly, and summer campers. The BE would pay the PRD a fee for exclusive use of the pool during certain times of the day; otherwise, the pool would be open to the public, the the PRD deciding how to allocate use.

The PRD, together with the town government, decided to try the idea. Not only was the scheme a success, but it very soon suggested solutions to other BE and PRD problems, some of them quite thorny. Here is how things are set up in New Cambridge today. 

The BE no longer operates any permanent facilities; the maintenance of the former school campus is seen to by the PRD. The original school has been reshaped into a community center at which schooling is only one of many activities. The new pool served as the anchor for an entirely new community health center, comprising courts and fields for team sports as well as personal health facilities. The long and the short of this from the BE's point of view is that it no longer concerns itself with anything but academic education. It leases classrooms from the PRD as needed. Special facilities, such as laboratories, are developed in partnership, with the PRD in charge of maintenance and supply. 

The school's athletic staff,  shifted to the PRD, grew to provide for activities not traditionally associated with school sports. A twelve-month program, the staff offers summer-camp for all children through the age of twelve. Older children may serve as counselors. It also operates, in conjunction with the Hospital, an assisted-living facility for senior citizens. In short, all municipal services aside from government, road maintenance, and schooling fall under its surveillance.

The PRD also oversees student discipline. Such punishments as the school used to mete out are handled by PRD and take the form of community service. Detention has been replaced by a variety of crews and classes. All students must attend classes in various civics subjects, but only students with disciplinary histories are tested and graded. The civics faculty draws on interested municipal government staff. 

Last year, the parochial school, St. Anne's, burned to the ground. A temporary arrangement in which the church rented classrooms from the PRD has since become permanent. (April 2001)

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