In 1987, Kurt Vonnegut returned to Indianapolis to protest the closure of his alma mater, Shortridge High School, by the Indianapolis Public Schools system. I was still something of a cub reporter at the time and had been sent to cover Vonnegut’s lecture. At the time, Vonnegut lamented the slow destruction of public education in the USA, forecasting an even greater divide between rich and poor as education became a perk for rich folks’ kids instead of a human right… but even Kurt hadn’t a clue of things to come.
Instead of getting a proper story about Vonnegut’s speech, I wound up doing a Hunter Thompson- I went back to Kurt’s hotel’s bar and got roaringsmashedshitfaced drunk with him. I (probably) had the time of my life, swapping sillinesses back and forth for a couple of hours with Kurt, both of us with breath like mustard gas and roses, until Kurt was moved to dodder off to his room and bid me farewell with a wheezing laugh and a slap on the back. I did eventually write up Vonnegut’s disquiet about public education falling in a heap, but it was all but ignored with my editor putting it back somewhere on page C-17.
While I’ve now been a resident of Australia for 10 years and have been an Australian citizen since 2003, I remain a US citizen. As such, I’m registered to vote in some Indiana state elections and the federal presidential elections. I got an absentee ballot last week for the Democratic mayoral primary election for Indianapolis. Indianapolis elected Bart Peterson as mayor in 2000, the first Democrat in the job since 1967. Peterson was re-elected in 2003 with a staggering 63% of the vote. Peterson is running for re-election without any opposition from the GOP. However, Peterson should be tarred and feathered for calling himself a Democrat. Peterson would make as good a Republican as Bill Clinton.
Peterson is being opposed in the primary by one Charles A. (Tony) Knight, on the basis of Peterson’s establishment of ‘mayoral charter schools.’ Charter schools are private schools created by mayoral fiat and relieved of some restrictions and regulations. Charter schools are meritocracies- a school which fails to meet certain metrics can have its charter revoked. Sounds like a good thing… if you’re looking to improve the operation of a failing car parts business. However, meritocracy doesn’t work when applied to education. The only thing that merit-based education systems produce is kids which get shoved into the next grade, whether they can read or not. Charter schools are stealing the public schools’ students and the tax base which operates them in Indianapolis- and doing them all a bloody great disservice in the process.
At the time of his passing, Vonnegut had been scheduled to speak in Indianapolis on 27 April as part of a “Year of Vonnegut” celebration of his contributions to American literature. Vonnegut’s already written speech will be delivered by his son, Mark.
Let’s hope Kurt had a salvo saved for the sad state of public education in Indianapolis.
KURT VONNEGUT: I’ve certainly drawn energy from my contempt (laughs) for our President, yes, and spoken rather rudely of him, as he is not a very smart person, and in high school we all recognised him as not being terribly bright.
And on PBS, I did say one very rude thing about him. I said George W. Bush is so dumb it wouldn’t surprise me if he thought Peter Pan was a washbasin in a house of ill repute (laughs).
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