This past week my children (1st and 3rd grade) both brought home this note from the principal regarding the upcoming 6th grade "graduation" ceremony at our nearby public grade school:
We live in a California town where you can travel, in the span of a few blocks or so, from gang-infested barrios to sleepy middle-class neighborhoods to sprawling mega-McMansions of the nouveau-super-rich. The super-rich evidently have a fair bit of surfeit wealth on their hands these days, and it would seem that they don't quite know what to do with it. I thought it was bad enough when my daughter told us about the elaborate preparations some of her peers were lavishing on a formal cotillion dance -- for third graders! Or when a friend canceled a play date because it conflicted with her pedicure appointment. Fine -- to each her own, I suppose. Over the past decade, the town (or significant sectors thereof) has graduated from being a quaintly creative citrus-growing college community into a lighted-tennis-courts-in- the-backyard Beverly Hills overflow zone. Every weekday morning we watch a steady stream of Jaguars, BMWs, Mercedes, Hummers, Porsches, Navigators, and Escalades drop kids off at the school entrance -- and occasionally you see a Ferrari whiz by.
It is a high-achieving school, and we (of more modest means) benefit because many of the parents will cut a big check that relieves the rest of us from needing to volunteer for the endless bake sales that PTA groups elsewhere sponsor to offset public school budgetary shortfalls. Our school features some stark contrasts in diversity -- mostly socioeconomic -- but such diversity hasn't yet become the kind of diversity that can tear apart a public school system. The rich haven't yanked their kids out of the public schools altogether in favor of private schools or home schooling. Nor have we experienced the acrimony of ideologically super-heated curricular debates, such as the teaching of evolution versus creation. Still, it falls on our wonderfully caring principal to try to keep all constituencies on the same page by issuing a friendly "No Limousines!" plea. I mention this local episode, and file it under the "Politics" section rather than the "Living Now" section here at Huffpo, because I think it indicates, in microcosm, certain larger national trends and larger national tensions for our times. The grade school principal is reminding us, rightly I think, that liberty as an American value and practice needs to be offset and balanced at times, for the sake of the common weal, with a healthy and sometimes countervailing regard for the equally American commitment to equality as a public value.