This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, September 8, 1993

September 8, 1993 - charter school philosophy

I'll say this about my dad. When I was in college, he never once told me what I ought to study. But when it was all over, and I had graduated with the preposterously unlikely triple major of philosophy, creative writing, and business law, he did ask me, politely enough, just what I intended to do with it.

For a moment, I was stumped. Finally, I told him, "Argue eloquently in bars." But it turns out that philosophy is a terrific grounding for any profession. Why? Because if you can ask the question, "Why?" -- and make an honest stab at answering it -- then you can do anything.

Don't underestimate the power of philosophy. Even today, especially in the prestigious eastern universities, physics is called "natural philosophy." Philosophy's questioning spirit is the mother of all knowledge.

Philosophy can make you nervous, but it will never make you comfortable. So what's the point? Socrates said it first: "The unexamined life is not worth living." If you study philosophy, and if you're serious about it, your life will never be dull. Three little letters -- w, h, y -- will keep you forever on your guard.

There's an oddball glory to philosophic debate, too. And I've always been willing to pick up either side -- although I generally prefer the side I don't believe, because I learn so much more that way. It's harder work than just repackaging my prejudices.

And speaking of debates, I happened to attend the school board meeting on September 1. At this meeting, the School Board unanimously approved the formation of the state's second charter school. Philosophically speaking, it was a good debate, which means that both school board members and charter school enthusiasts had to do some head-scratching. But many good points were made. A key discovery of the evening was that the school district was giving to the Academy Charter school just exactly as much funding per pupil as they give to all of their other schools. As Superintendent Rick O'Connell put it, "No more, no less." The school district opted for fairness.

On the other hand, the district wanted to charge the charter school for administrative advice, which they clearly don't do with their own schools. It is true that district staff and the school board put in a lot of hours on this one -- but not nearly as many as the charter school people. And you can't charge extra just to comply with the law.

But despite a few moments of tenseness, everybody did what they were supposed to do: get involved in public education, ask some questions, defend some answers, try something new, and ultimately, make a difference.

In short, I believe this excellent example of good public debate -- to a refreshingly packed house -- resulted in a product better than either party could have accomplished alone.

Incidentally, the strong interest in charter schools around the county and state has sparked two library-related acquisitions. There is now a reference copy of the 600-page Academy Charter School application at each of our Philip S. Miller, Parker, Oakes Mill, and Highlands Ranch libraries.

In addition, the Colorado Department of Education has offered to send us a special collection of materials relating to charter schools. We'll house them at our Oakes Mill library, which has developed something of a specialty in education.

Remember: this whole idea of charter schools started as a deceptively simple philosophic question. Why shouldn't parents have more of a say in which educational experiment their children are part of?

Three little letters -- they can pack a lot of power.

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