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Political Pedagogy

Brass Tacks

By Peter S. Britell

Apart from the usual cry about electing Joe Smith for good (or better) government, an absence of real issues has characterized the present campaigns for the Cambridge City Council and School Committee.

Perhaps in tacit recognition of this absence, Council candidates and incumbents alike have refrained from any recriminations which might tend to underscore it. Some School Committee hopefuls, however, have raked over the past loudly and come up with what amounts to an articulation of emptiness. Their inability to locate any real dirt which the incumbent Committee might have hidden under the rug only serves to indicate that Cambridge has a decent and improving school system, abetted by a progressive School Committee.

Undoubtedly significant has been Cambridge Civic Association majority representation on the present School Committee. With three of the six members, plus chairman Mayor Edward A. Crane '35, the CCA has met little difficulty in implementing its policies. In the new school construction program, as well as in several other reform measures, the organization has a strong campaign plank. The irony of the present situation is that of the three incumbents, only one, Gustave M. Solomons, is standing for re-election. After its major success in the last election, and after a very constructive two years, the CCA may find itself the object of an election-year washout.

The record stands in concrete. The spanking new Charles G. Harrington School on Donnelly Field in East Cambridge has already opened its doors to pupils from the now abandoned Wellington and Gannett Schools and will soon be ready for the present population of Kelley School. Other new schools, like Peabody (near Radcliffe) and Morse (near Magazine Beach) have already been open for some time. The Committee has also launched several experimental programs, one, for example, an "in-service" training program for new and old teachers alike. Another major step has been the addition of aural-oral instruction in French.

Contrasted with obsolete buildings and outmoded instruction of eight years ago, the state of Cambridge pedagogy has improved markedly. But the CCA must convince the electorate of this improvement.

In a recent interview, Gustave Solomons expressed what can be taken as the CCA campaign platform. He pledged continued progress: "We have had two good years in the School Committee. Because we had a CCA majority, we did not have the fusses that we had in the committee prior to this one." He praised two very recent curriculum advances: "We have put in a language lab, and have added an M.I.T. physics course to both Rindge and Cambridge High and Latin." And, he pledged two more reforms, both however, somewhat ill-defined: to raise teachers' salaries to the level of those in industry and "to make Rindge a top technical school."

Against what is necessarily the stand-pat-and-advance electioneering of the CCA, stand those whose only chance of election to the committee lies in attacking with recrimination. Quite possibly, also, the lack of vitriol in the other campaign--for the City Council--relates directly to the lack of a present CCA majority there. Because the CCA cannot claim complete responsibility for the political situation of the last two years, its enemies cannot cover it with the entire blame.

In the School campaign, the anti-CCA attack is of the I'm-not-really-against-the-CCA, but . . . variety. A major proponent of this line is Joseph L. Carson, a party Democrat also very active in the campaign to repeal Proportional Representation. To Carson the Civic Association is hypocritical and elitist. He hinted broadly in answer to an opening question that the CCA was responsible for an electoral system "which becomes a lottery at a certain stage . . . . I don't think the people are stupid, but there is little or no grasp of issues--if people are operating under a system they don't understand, it is no good." (The people of Cambridge seem to have misunderstood Proportional Representation for twenty years.)

The only major educational issue on which Carson attacked the CCA was "the old political football." After the CCA required that an exam be taken by all candidates for the headmaster-ship of City schools, Carson alleged the organization's majority refused (for other reasons) to recognize a Mr. Sweeny, a non-local man who topped the exam. "I would relinquish the prerogative that the School Committee has over candidates once they have passed the exam," he emphasized.

Here then is an example of the ideological rift in the School Committee campaign: on the one hand entrenched progress, on the other a frantic search for minor issues.

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