A young woman was camped on a blanket under a large oak tree, reading in the dappled shadows--she looked up to watch the errant cherub who had wandered in her direction.
A rumpled gentleman later passed by, talking at the sun. Apparently the sun talked back.
The Green is a public space, has been since militia trained there to fight in the Revolutionary War. The town bought the deed in 1797, a bargain at $200, and it has remained public since then.
A parade ends here every Memorial Day--Scouts and Kiwanis and Elks and fire companies and school bands and politicians and Brownies and veterans march down Broad Street. The usual collection of colorful townfolk show up, including the Cat Man, whose cat costume stopped fitting about 15 years and 40 pounds ago. Shop Rite sends a tractor trailer to join the parade. The local Shop Rite hires a lot of handicapped locals and contributes to the food bank--it has earned the right to be in our public parade.
Every fall we have the Harvest Fest with a carnival and lots of folks selling trinkets.
Three years ago Raymond died while sleeping on a bench on a very cold night, a local man known to the police as "a big drinker," an empty vodka bottle next to him. Folks had passed him earlier on their way to the churches bordering the Green, thinking he was just sleeping, if they thought about it at all.
The police knew Raymond had been hanging around the Green, but is is, after all, a public space. Public drunkenness is no longer a crime in the United States.
We are losing our concept of public.
The word comes from Latin publicus, derived from populus: people. People. All kinds qualify, as long as they're people. Toddlers, drunkards, plumbers, CEOs, teachers, cops and criminals--all people.
You can meet most anybody on the Green. You won't, however, meet Bill Gates or Arne Duncan or Michael Bloomberg or George Bush, all who consider themselves leaders in education. And they may be. If you can't find them on the Green, though, they should not be leading public education.
And that's a bloody inconvenience for the mighty in our culture.
***(If the Duncans and the Gates of the world foisted their views on their ilk, in their private spaces, so be it--they have money and power, and can do what they will with it. When they come preaching to the town square, we need to remind them what public means.)
My salary is paid by my neighbors; they support the public schools even though our town is not particularly wealthy and is largely working class. Many of my students are first generation.
Very few of them want their children to move to Seattle to work for Bill.
So what do they want from public school?
They want their kids to learn how to read, how to write, how to think. They want football and proms and Key Clubs and star parties. They want a public space for local events and local clubs. They want volley ball and driver's ed and classes that teach life skills. They want their children to be useful and productive and happy in this experiment call America.
Public places can be quiet, can be rowdy. They can be festive and at times dangerous. Public spaces are where everyone in town can run into anybody else from town on equal footing.
The Declaration of Independence continues to be read on town squares across our country every Fourth of July. Truths are not so self-evident anymore. If we are going to recapture what it means to be America, it's going to happen in our public spaces.
(If the Duncans and the Gates of the world foisted their views on their ilk, in their private spaces, so be it--they have money and power, and can do what they will with it. When they come preaching to the town square, we need to remind them what public means.)