School to Teach Public Policy Ought to Be Called Dallas School for Scoundrels

David Jensen could teach a course at the proposed "City Lab" high school on what it feels like to have your home stolen out from under you by the city so it can help some well connected developer across the street.
David Jensen could teach a course at the proposed "City Lab" high school on what it feels like to have your home stolen out from under you by the city so it can help some well connected developer across the street.
Mark Graham

The Dallas public school system has announced it will launch a new high school in 2017 using the city of Dallas as a “laboratory” to teach kids about architecture, public policy and community development.

Is this going to be one of those “scared straight” things? You know, like when they take the kids down to the county jail to show them a colony cage full of meth addicts?

Because otherwise I really don’t get it. Especially the public policy part. What’s the introductory course called, “Sycophancy and Fecklessness 101”? What are they going to call the school? Dallas School for Scoundrels?

I’m serious. The only way I could see this being even safe for children, let alone worthwhile, is if the school system signs a blood oath not to tell them the truth. We need our kids to believe in democracy, the rule of law and the dignity of man. I can’t imagine a better way to knock that out of them than to take them down to City Hall for more than a half-hour visit.

I think of all the conversations I have with people every day about how things really run in this city. If I had a school-age kid and somebody told him all that stuff, I’d shoot him. At least give the child a chance to grow up first.

No, I mean it. Just for example, let’s say you have a typical lesson in “How Big Real Estate Projects Are Approved in Dallas.” I know people who could teach that one for sure. They could break it down for the kids.

Item One: Passing cash to council members through the clergy. Remember, children: Lots of men and women of the cloth may claim to be hooked up, so the whole trick is getting your money to the right Padre.

Item Two: Getting cash to council members through law firms, insurance agencies or real estate brokerages. See clergy.

Item Three: Helping council members get their totally unqualified kids into the University of Texas law school. No sweat.

Item Four: Providing the City Council with an exhaustive traffic study, environmental impact study, architectural renderings and an economic impact report to illustrate the full value of your project to the city. $19.99 on eBay.

Item Five: Use of consultants. Ask your mother.

I’m thinking also in broader terms — how young people could use the city of Dallas as a laboratory for urban studies at the level of philosophy. They could offer another entire course called “Truth, the Trinity River Project and Why Socrates Wound Up Killing Himself.”

Oh, sure, let’s tell the kids all about the Trinity River project, that public works controversy that has riven and defined Dallas politics during 20 years of unbroken feuding and rancor. First you tell them: Whatever it is you want the people to vote for, tell them the election is about something else.

Say for example you want them to vote for a highway project along the river that’s going to help about 10 people get rich while ruining the river, doing nothing to relieve traffic and costing taxpayers billions of dollars. Simple.

You lie. Tell the people it’s not a highway project at all. Of course it isn’t. Tell them they’re voting for a park with sailboat rides, a Ferris wheel and free hot dogs.

Let’s take this a step further. Pretend I am actually conducting this class, and one of the children, I’ll imagine her to be a 15-year-old girl named Susan with a bow in her hair, raises her hand and says, “But Teacher Schutze, what if someone tells the voters the truth?”

“Oh, yeah right, kid. I mean, of course, Susan. But who would ever do that?”

“Angela Hunt.”

“Susan, sweetest, how do you happen to know about former City Council member and Trinity toll road opponent Angela Hunt?”

“My mom told me about Angela Hunt, after you told me to ask her about the use of consultants.”

“I see. OK, class, Susan has asked an excellent question, and I want you all to take out your laptops and be sure to take notes on my response.

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“The question is, What if you are lying through your teeth to the voters to get your road project passed, telling them it’s some kind of amusement park or some other idiotic nonsense you assume the voters are stupid enough to believe, and you’re getting away with it, but then Angela Hunt tells them the truth? What do you do?

Heads up, fingers paused on laptops, actually interested.

“Students, what you do in that situation is tell the voters that Angela Hunt is a bitch.”

Pin-drop silence as children stare toward front of room, tears forming in round, unblinking eyes, lips trembling.

“But … but professor Schutze,” Susan gasps, “my mother loves Angela Hunt.”

“Kids, kids, kids,” I remind them, smiling ruefully and shaking my gray old head sagely. “How many times must we tell you this, here at the Dallas School for Scoundrels? If you hope to graduate, you’ve got to learn to lie to your parents.”

All right, I’m going over the top I guess, overthinking it maybe, but I’m serious, too, serious as a heart attack. Maybe we should try to look at this the other way. Maybe the high school wouldn’t set out to teach the grim realities as if they were in any way morally or ethically acceptable.

Now I think we’re getting back to what I first said, about taking the kids downtown to see a cage full of meth-heads. This gets back to the “scared straight” theme. There could be a course in “What it’s like to get shafted by the city,” taught by David Jensen , the guy I wrote about in West Dallas who had his home stolen from him by City Hall so the city could help out a big developer across the street from him. (By the way, he’s living in the country now, wearing boots and a cowboy hat, got his dogs with him and happy as a clam to be out of Dallas.)

Maybe the school could create little videos with actors.

Scene One: City Manager in office. Phone Rings. City Manager answers.

City Manager: “Hello. Oh, yes, Mr. Owner of Yellow Cab. How are you today?”

Excited voice squalling on other end of line.

City Manager: What is that you say? Put Uber out of business? One moment, please.”

City manager grabs lead pencil, licks point. Scrawls painfully on note pad. Camera zooms to hand writing slowly on pad.

Put. U. ber. Out. Of. Bus. i. Ness.

City Manager: Consider it done, Mr. Owner of Yellow Cab.

Squalling on other end. City Manager hangs up, gives the phone the finger with both hands several times. Shouts to outer office:

City Manager: Gretchen! Gretchen! Gretchen, you wretched wench, get in here, Gretchen!

Wretched assistant, a bent and shuffling woman of advanced years with pop-bottle glasses and head-shaking tick, enters office haltingly, hands at sides. City Manager gives her his note.

City Manager: Gretchen, you wretched wench, get over to the police department and tell the chief to take care of this ASAP. Do you know what ASAP stands for, you wretched wench, Gretchen?

Gretchen shakes head violently in several directions while surreptitiously giving the city manager the finger with one hand clutched to her side.

Gretchen: It means, “As soon as possible,” Mr. City Manager.

She bows out of room stumbling backwards with note clawed in a ball in one talon-like hand, still giving surreptitious finger with other hand.

City Manager scribbles at desk with right hand, left hand waving above his head, giving finger to imaginary figures. Music rises.

VOICE-OVER AT END OF FILM: Students, if you do not master an honest craft, if you do not learn to make some useful contribution to society, the scenes that you just witnessed in this short educational film could well be the fate that awaits you. Only by turning to your studies now with seriousness of purpose and purity of heart, by eschewing drugs and not engaging in unprotected sex can you be sure that you will remain safe from the destinies depicted in this educational drama.

And then again, what am I worried about? Public education in America? They’re going to tell the kids the truth? When did that start?

However they do it, we are asked to believe they’re going to teach these kids architecture, public policy and community development in high school. Don’t the kids have to master Shakespeare and calculus first? Second thought, forget I ever said anything.


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