I live and teach in Bloomfield, New Jersey. Less than a block from the school, we have a shoe repairman. A few blocks north of the high school, we have Gencarelli's, a wonderful bakery, where you can still get in line before sunrise Christmas morning to get a loaf of fresh bread (which they boast on their website).
In my neighborhood we have teachers and cops, postal workers and musicians. Next door on one side lives a nurse, on the other a professional caddy.
We are home to Angelo's Pizzeria, owned by Charles Grande, who's in the Pizza Hall of Fame for winning the national pizza making championship several times. The Tripucka clan grew up here, Frank of NFL fame, his son Kelly, of NBA fame, and Dr. Carr, the Director of Pre K-6 Education here in Bloomfield, and who happened to score 56 points in a high school basketball game before her brother could even grow his famous moustache.
I'm within a stone's throw of thousands of people who make a living making things, being useful to others, using their hands, doing work with job descriptions that do not need further explaining. They pay a lot of money to educate the children in our town.
I'd bet none of the above (with the exception of Dr. Carr) had to prove a working knowledge of algebra to get where they are today, and I doubt even Dr. Carr uses the quadratic equation in her duties.
You will find families that have been here for generations, more concerned about what's happening in the local schools and Little League than what's happening in Geneva, and despite our über urban sheen, Bloomfield still resonates provincialism.
I know provincialism has a taint about it now, but the older I get, the less I understand why.
I teach science here in town, but not as an outsider. I know that many, perhaps most, of my lambs can get through life just fine without grasping the intricacies of the DNA molecule, and more importantly, the students know this as well, poised to inherit a family business or take an inside track to an apprenticeship to learn something tangibly useful.
Our school budget passed this past year despite a lot of hurting people, because, for the most part, our schools are still part of what makes our community a community.
Any child in our town has the tools available to gain the education needed to get into schools like Stanford or Yale, and a few regularly do. Still, for most families, this is not a priority, nor should it be. My goals are to provide students the opportunity to see the world beyond their iPods, and to be able to critically analyze data, a fancy-pants way of saying helping them to think. Ultimately, I want our children to live productive, happy lives.
What you won't find in my neighborhood is Bill Gates, or his assistant, or even his 2nd assistant to the assistant, though Mr. Gates is welcome to live here. He's not welcome, though, to dictate how education should be run in our town. He's all for "productive" lives, if productive means feeding the global economy. I'm not sure if happy fits into the equation.
The Shoe Repair Man statue is from the Statuary Place Online Store, and can be bought for $12.95. Used with permission.