Originally published in the Grand Rapids Press, August 21, 2010
One time, back in my teenage years, I was riding in a car around Flint with friends. I don’t remember exactly what we were doing. Typically a car full of us meant we were heading someplace to play baseball or football. Or if it was evening, we were looking for an empty but lighted parking lot to throw a Frisbee. (I think it was being the proper mix of generally good kids and generally without money that kept us out of trouble.)
In any case, we were heading west on I-69 and we wanted to get to Bristol Road. I said, “That’s impossible. Both I-69 and Bristol Road go east/west. We’ll have to turn around and go back to I-75.” My friend Dominic said, “No, there’s actually an exit off I-69 for Bristol Road.” I said something back to Dominic, likely questioning both his intelligence and his parental heritage. But Dominic insisted, “I’ve seen it. We use it when we go to the mall.” Again I made disparaging remarks. It made no sense to me. Two parallel lines cannot intersect. It was simple geometry. I bet money. Dominic accepted and — lo and behold — minutes later we came upon the Bristol Road exit. (I-69 does not, in fact, travel perfectly east/west in the Flint area.) I was dumbfounded — reality had totally trumped my ideology. (Dominic let me weasel out of the bet — because he was a good kid and also because he knew I didn’t actually have any money.)
It was a good lesson that I still remember today: It’s fine to carry a general philosophy of how things work, but it’s not a good idea to let ideology blind you to reality. So it goes with public education in Michigan. Last week the Grand Rapids Press ran an extended series on the relative merits of school consolidation. The realities of the situation (dwindling tax dollars but an urgent need for better educated graduates) are smacking around traditionally held views to the point where liberal and conservative ideologies seem to be crossing. To me, that’s a positive sign. It’s time for Michigan to accept that fact that there’s a Bristol Road exit off I-69 and go from there.