Public Works

Outside of our home, here’s what most of my young life looked like: libraries, schools, playgrounds and parks. To be more specific, public libraries, public schools, public playgrounds and public parks.

I grew up about ten blocks from two public libraries. The librarians – there were several – seemed to love having kids around. They took time to show us books, of course, but also how to look, how to use the card catalog (Anyone still remember those?), how to look through magazines and newspapers. There were author programs – a very fine kids’ author, Marilyn Sachs lived in our neighborhood – cultural events, a chess club, reading groups, and many more features that made for a healthy and robust community of young thinkers.

I attended public schools from kindergarten through college. My state was among the top 3 in per student spending for K-12 education when I was of school age. We had many experienced, engaged and talented teachers, books that were ample and new each year, school supplies, enrichment programs, music programs, art programs, school libraries, PE, special events, like spring festivals, up-to-date AV equipment. Once I got to high school, my school offered instruction in French, German, Italian and Spanish. We had several interscholastic athletic teams every season, a school play each semester, frequent musical events. Our science labs were well stocked. I was fortunate to attend my state’s university for a little less than $600 per year in tuition.

I lived across the street from a very well used playground – tennis and basketball courts, athletic equipment, a special play area for littler kids, art classes, a program of day-trips, a professional staff.

A huge urban park was only half a block away. It had a lake with boats for rent, baseball diamonds, a full track, football fields, open meadows, walking trails, horse rentals, a world class fine art museum, a natural history museum, open-air band concerts, a Japanese tea garden, several playgrounds, an animal farm, public art, a working antique carousel.

Almost everything about my experience as a youth told me it meant something special to be a part of my city, my state. I came to understand through that living, breathing, personal experience, then, the very concept of citizenship. I had a clear understanding of what government provided its citizens. I received education, enrichment, socialization, physical fitness, recreation.

Expensive to build and run? Without question. But what did my hometown get in return?

Generations of good, well educated, civic-minded, committed citizens.

When I hear people say they want government out of their lives, I can only assume they haven’t had the same experiences I’ve had. I would hate to think they were self-serving, hypocritical and cynical enough to criticize and even kill the very institutions that gave them such advantage in life.