I’ve been spending more time than usual in the Twin Cities this spring, driving around neighborhoods that are new to me. One of them is an industrial area along Hiawatha Avenue in Minneapolis. I’ve noticed three schools housed in buildings that I’m pretty sure were built for other purposes.
I understand that this is practical – the buildings are large, have plenty of parking, and are close to public transportation (though there are still a lot of school buses in the morning!).
Nonetheless, seeing them out there makes me nostalgic. I miss the days when schools were at the center of communities, when they were surrounded by playgrounds and baseball diamonds and big lawns. I miss the days when towns invested in buildings that were handsome and substantial. I miss the sense that we are all connected to the nearby school, even if we don’t have children in our household.
Even apart from nostalgia, there is some sense in which this just seems like the wrong place for schools. This location says that education is an “industry,” and not part of our family and neighborhood life. All three of the ones I drive by are Charter schools, and this location says that innovation is relegated to the margins of our community. If the students in these schools are (as I suspect) those who have struggled in other settings, this location says “sorry, you don’t get a beautiful school.”
I am trying to be appreciative of the practicality and resourcefulness of the folks who lead and oversee these schools. I am trying not to be old-fashioned about the importance of architecture and geography and green space. I am trying to remember that what goes on inside of schools is always more important than what they look like on the outside. I am trying … And it still feels as though we have lost something.