Arnold’s Big Tent

“Schwarzenegger: California’s GOP should take down its small tent”
Arnold Schwarznegger
The Los Angeles Times
May 6, 2012

It is true that Arnold Schwarznegger was probably not the best governor California ever had (nor the best actor-turned-governor that the state ever had, either), but he was far from its worst. His most important contribution, I think, was his vision that state government can be post-partisan yet idea-driven, and conservative yet progressive. That his legacy did not live up to this vision was not entirely his fault.

Schwarznegger was something of a Bull Moose, a Republican who believed that the state could no longer lay congealing in the juices of the status quo, that like a Great White Shark needs to continue to move forward or die. He understood – and still understands – that the key to the state’s future lies with leaders who can build trans-party coalitions, regardless of which party they come from.

To his credit, since he left Sacramento, some of the Governator’s harshest criticism has been of the GOP. In a superb L.A. Times op/ed in May, Arnold writes words that should stir the heart of every thinking Republican.

Being a Republican used to mean finding solutions for the American people that worked for everyone. It used to mean having big ideas that moved the country forward.

It can mean that again, but big ideas don’t often come from small tents.

It’s time to stop thinking of the Republican Party as an exclusive club where your ideological card is checked at the door, and start thinking about how we can attract more solution-based leaders like Nathan Fletcher and Anthony Adams.

Hear, hear.

Now, how many of my fellow Republicans have the courage to take Schwarznegger’s words to heart and put them into action?

And how stupid is it that Nathan Fletcher should feel compelled to run as an independent, rather than a Republican?

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Ending Agenda Education

The wonderful chef, restaurateur, and leader o...
Alice Waters of Chez Panisse (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Cultivating Failure – Magazine – The Atlantic

In this excellent review of Thomas McNamee’s biography of legendary chef Alice Waters (of Berkeley’s Chez Panisse,) The Atlantic’s Caitlin Flanagan tears into Waters’ effort to turn her celebrity into influence over the curriculum of California schools.

Waters is a major proponent of the importance of school gardens as a teaching tool, the Edible Schoolyard Program, offering students an opportunity to achieve some very high-minded goals, but that does nothing to help them pass math or english exams or get into the university of their choice.

The article debunks, often with brutal statistics and scathing logic, the high-minded movement that has put gardens in 2,000 of 9,000 of California’s cash-strapped elementary and secondary schools. Flanagan then takes a step back, surveys the history of fads in California education, and notes:

With the Edible Schoolyard, and the thousands of similar programs, the idea of a school as a venue in which to advance a social agenda has reached rock bottom. This kind of misuse of instructional time began in the Progressive Era, and it has been employed to cheat kids out of thousands of crucial learning hours over the years, so that they might be indoctrinated in whatever the fashionable idea of the moment or the school district might be. One year it’s hygiene and another it’s anti-Communism; in one city it’s safe-sex “outer-course,” and in another it’s abstinence-only education. (Sixth-graders at King spend an hour and a half each week in the garden or the kitchen—and that doesn’t include the time they spend in the classroom, in efforts effective or not, to apply the experiences of planting and cooking to learning the skills and subjects that the state of California mandates must be mastered.) But with these gardens—and their implication that one of the few important things we as a culture have to teach the next generation is what and how to eat—we’re mocking one of our most ennobling American ideals. Our children don’t get an education because they’re lucky, or because we’ve generously decided to give them one as a special gift. Our children get an education—or should get an education—because they have a right to one. At the very least, shouldn’t we ensure that the person who makes her mark on the curricula we teach be someone other than an extremely talented cook with a highly political agenda?

It is time to pull all of our political agendas, left and right, out of the classroom, save one: the goal to ensure our children are academically prepared for life. Leave the enrichment to extra-curricular activities.

The New Florence

Florence Roofs
Florence Roofs (Photo credit: plemeljr)

The Great Hangover: 21 Tales of the New Recession from the Pages of Vanity Fair by Vanity Fair, Graydon Carter.

This compilation of Vanity Fair stories includes a little heralded piece by Nina Munk describing how Harvard University, once possessed of the largest university endowment in the world, has watched its nest egg implode in the wake of the global financial meltdown.

The temptation to schadenfreude is rarely more overwhelming, but push it off for a brief moment and contemplate this excerpt from Munk’s original story in VF:

Let’s back up for a moment and return to more prosperous times. It’s 2001 and Larry Summers has just been named president of Harvard University. Unapologetically combative, Summers is determined to lead (or force) the university into a glorious renaissance. Gazing into the future, Summers envisions smaller class sizes, a more diverse student body, a younger and more energetic faculty, a revitalized core curriculum, cooperation among Harvard’s Balkanized divisions, and a greatly expanded campus. Above all, at a university best known for its focus on the humanities, business, and law, Summers hopes to make science a priority. Belatedly, Harvard will match and even surpass the lavish investments that Princeton and Stanford have plowed into the sciences.
As Summers recently remarked to one of his colleagues, “I held out the hope that Boston would be to this century what Florence was to the 15th century.”

And, like that, the dream is gone. Harvard will not be leading Boston to become the Florence of the 21st Century after all.

My bet is on California, warts and all. Let’s not argue if. Instead, let’s discuss how.