Thursday, January 28, 2010

City School Northampton: thinking about the government

OK, I've been thinking about the government. I've had for me what is becoming a typical convergence of events.

Consider this:

As you know, I moved to Massachusetts a few years ago, a state (or commonwealth as we call it here) where some of the seediest of seeds of our nation were first sown.

This week my step-father-in-law just completed and published a book (now available as a PDF on CD). His book is a time-line of Massachusetts history. The last 1,000 years worth. It covers events and people from the original inhabitants, to those tourists on Mayflower cruise, to the real Tea Party, to the toll house cookie, to the Big Dig. He has written other books including a definitive citizens guide, Your Massachusetts Government. It unfortunately is out of print, and for some reason a copy is selling for $100 used. I'm reading this book, since the author kindly gave our family a well read copy when we moved here.

We recently had our newsy premature election of Republican Scott Brown to represent us in the US Senate, so our state is back in play as they say. Those of you who think the outcome was a bit odd should recall that we had four Republican governors before the present Democrat one. The prior Democrat governor was Michael Dukakis. And now that I have totally digressed on the subject of Governors, I might as well add that our first governor was John Hancock. (Hancock should be famous enough, or at least his eponymous signature is, if in-fact a signature can be such, that I won't need to find a special web link for his name.) Even Calvin Coolidge was a governor of Massachusetts. Sorry, a few more digressions are coming, but there's a point somewhere. Coolidge was President, as you know, but he also was Mayor of the city of Northampton - the City that I live in. A city older than this country - though technically it was a town back then. Which brings us back from my Scheherazade moment to the title of this entry.

You see, I'm attending City School. I'm not sure of the actual history of it, but our city first offered this "school" on how our city government works last year. And I enrolled this year. I've taken two classes, and I've learned quite a few things. Actually, none of it is the stuff I wrote about above. In City School, there are classes once a week. Each class is in a different location around our city and at each class city employees, officials, or volunteers make presentations on the workings of our local government. I just finished week 2 and so far we have met at City Hall and the Lilly Library. There are no strings. We get to ask probing questions like "How much do you earn?". FYI, City Councilors get a $2,500 stipend. Not much, considering they are elected, meet several times a month, and get calls and emails from their neighbors complaining about things like missing street signs. (My spouse did just that last week, and this week we have a new sign.) Back to City School. I heard that this program was so successful last year, that other municipalities have approached our Mayor to see if they can copy this model. So far, we have met with our City Council President, Mayoral staff, a School Committee member, librarians from our two famous libraries, the head of our Arts Council and our Health and Recreation Departments. I had nothing like this experience before and where I grew up (suburban Long Island) and later lived (New York City) there was no chance that I would get to do this.

Soon, I hope, I will try to tell you more here about what I'm learning at City School and perhaps promote the value of educating citizens.

See you next week!


  1. I'm thrilled you are taking this class!

  2. Thanks for your support. I hope to have a few updates in the near future.

  3. Excuse me... I have a question.. What does Scheherazade mean.

  4. Great question. Scheherazade is the main storyteller character in the the original Tales of Arabian Nights.
    There is a King that kills his brides after their wedding night. Since the kingdom is running out of happy women, she more-or-less volunteers to marry him, and on their wedding night and each night after, he tells him stories. The stories are stories within stories, sometimes 3 stories deep. They are great stories. Anyway, the hubby usually falls asleep before a story ends and before he can consummate the marriage. So her plan works, and she has saved herself and the next bride to come along. FYI, the story of Aladin is just one of the stories. And some of the stories are downright racy. The book is also called 1000 Arabian nights, or something similar. Now you know why they are called 'nights' and why there are so many. I probably only read 100 nights worth.

  5. Thanks, you did a better job than Wikipedia.