I’m back in my hometown of Brookline, spending time with Mom, who just came home yesterday from Beth Israel Hospital dealing with the two-week fallout from congestive heart failure.
My brothers Mike and Jon have done a magnificent job of tending to Mom’s needs in the hospital, advocating on her behalf, connecting with her and starting to figure out next steps of care for her.
I got into town yesterday afternoon and felt a surge of emotion as I drove by Cypress Park and saw Brookline High School, my alma mater, looming in the distance.
It’s been 27 years since I graduated, and somehow, at that moments, those years felt like a lifetime ago, and I understand better than I had before the literature of middle-aged characters returning home and being reminded rudely of time’s inevitable passage.
It’s also been a long time since Sarah Lawrence-Lightftoot wrote The Good High School, a book that contains a chapter about Brookline High. Written during the tenure of principal Robert McCarthy, the work is a sympathetic look at McCarthy’s efforts to make the school more democratic after the authoritarian rein of Carmen Rinaldi and his administration more responsive to teacher and student input.
One concrete manifestation of that commitment was the Town Meeting, a body that brought together teachers, students and staff and gave them considerable power. Not unlike the U.S. Senate, Town Meeting had the ability to override a principal veto if two-thirds or more of the members supported it.
I had fun running for, and winning, one of the two spots for our house, but I was not a particularly engaged or effective rep. I did not communicate actively even with my home room about what was happening in Town Meeting and did even less to solicit constituents’ input about issues that we might want to take up in subsequent meetings.
Some might say this put me on part with many congressmen and senators, but that’s too easy a line.
Whatever the quality of my service was, though, it took me years to understand the magnitude of what McCarthy was trying to accomplish.
As we know, democracy is a messy form of government, and apathy can be an even more corrosive enemy than implacable opposition. If I remember correctly, the Town Meeting eventually died on the vine, although I always have to give props to dear friend Scooter Lee for getting proposal passed that allowed students to listen to Walkmen, the iPods of the day, in school.
Lawrence-Lightfoot’s book captures the flavor of that school and those times. I may not check it out again during this stay, but imagine that I will at some point in the future.