Monday, February 9, 2009

TV/VCR of Higher Learning?

When I went out shopping for a new tv some time ago, I remember being cautioned not to buy a combo TV/VCR. It might seem to be a good deal, but if one breaks, well, then you are stuck.

Those involved in deciding whether a new community college for the city should be part of the University of the District of Columbia (we are the only urban center in the country not to have one) might consider that sound advice. (Mike Debonis of the CityPaper chronicles the latest here)

In this case, the District already has a broken TV, and, even before fixing it, it is thinking of strapping a new VCR (or DVD player in today's technology) onto it.

I admire the passion and drive that UDC's new president brings to the job. And I'm pleased he has made it is mission to turn the failing institution into one that we can be proud of. But for now, the new community college should be independent of UDC.

I personally like the idea of establishing a prominent downtown campus for DCCC in the vacant Franklin School, returning it to educational use. One can envision students working on their assignments across the street in Franklin Square park.

According to the Franklin School's historic designation application:
The Franklin School was the flagship building of a group of seven modern urban public school buildings constructed between 1862 and 1875 to house, for the first time, a comprehensive system of free universal public education in the capital of the Republic. It was hoped that this new public school system would serve as a model for the nation as the need to provide equal educational opportunities for all Americans was finally recognized as essential to the survival of a democratic society. For women and African Americans, this ideal of universal public education was accompanied by a policy of separation of students both by sex and by race. The school was named for Benjamin Franklin who had clearly understood and advocated the absolute necessity of universal public education for the success of the young nation....

Franklin School was immediately successful, creating an entirely new perception of public schools and their significance to the future of the nation. The building became the symbol of the fulfillment of the Board of Trustees' vision of a free public school system in which equality of educational opportunity would be the foundation of a truly democratic society in which barriers of class, wealth, and sex would at last be overcome.
Could there be any more fitting use of the building than the District's flagship community college?

Some might feel that there's a better use of the Franklin School than a community college. It might a beautiful boutique hotel or unique condos, for example. This isn't a new argument. In fact, it's 140 years old. At the building's dedication in 1869, Alderman Chase responded to critics who felt that the Franklin School building was too fine for a public school house:
"Ah! sir, I hope the time may never come when we would make less beautiful and attractive the places where our children are to receive an education, where lasting impressions are to be made upon the young mind, than we would the offices of State...It has been well said by an eminent thinker, 'Show me the churches and school houses of a nation, and I will tell you what is its civilization and enlightenment."
So what's it going to be... a TV/VCR or an independent, downtown DCCC campus rooted in the tradition of a high-quality education for all with a fresh start?

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