Once again, the state of Minnesota is changing the rules for what children are supposed to learn in school. For the past couple of years, students had to put together a stack of projects in order to graduate. Now, apparently, they are going back to memorizing state capitols. 

Looking back on my education, there are certain things which have come in more handy than others, and so I have some suggestions for state officials in this matter. 

Multiplication is important. The multiplication table has stayed with me. We learned up to 12 x 12. To this day, if any number higher than thirteen gets thrown in, I have to get out a pad and pencil, or a calculator—but up to 12 x 12 I am fine. 

Thank you, taxpayers. Too bad the long division thing didn’t work out. 

Reading and writing have come in handy over the years. The dry textbooks of high school and college nearly killed the passion for reading I had as a sixth grader, but my interest revived after graduate school. Reading far outranks square dancing on the list of required skills I value most. 

Yes, square dancing was required in Minnesota schools––at least into the 1980s. It was the law. Or so our teacher told us when we complained bitterly about the two weeks of dosey-doeing. 

A more useful element of the Physical Education curriculum was the seventeen weeks we spent each year learning the basics of dodgeball. I became an expert in dodgeball theory. My main theory was to avoid getting plastered by one of the rifle-armed jocks by huddling in the corner with the other kids who preferred to read. 

As preparation for the corporate world, dodgeball should be required. Seventeen weeks per year should get the point across. 

I haven’t built another birdhouse since eighth grade, and a good thing for the birds. I got a C on that project, and that was due to charity on the part of the teacher. Birds refused to occupy it, and I burned it in a brief ceremony later that summer. 

I once knew how to find the gonads on an earthworm. That piece of knowledge didn’t stick past the test, but I can still smell the formaldehyde from Biology class. One should know what formaldehyde smells like so later on in life you can say, “smells sort of like formaldehyde” and know what you’re talking about. 

We learned about glaciers and silts and loess and tarns and sediments and tectonic plates and igneous rock. But that’s knowledge which, if you ever get to a part of the country where it matters, you can learn it from a plaque at the next rest area. Sort of a waste of taxpayer dollars to go over the material twice. 

In tenth grade history class, we were required to learn the difference between Ionian and Doric carvings on columns of Greek and Roman temples. Very boring. But years later I found out what the Greeks and Romans were doing between the pillars of those temples. Much more interesting! Those details would have kept the class awake, and may even have increased the attendance at school board meetings. 

Perhaps these small suggestions can be incorporated into the new set of educational requirements to be handed down by the state. If not, I’ll just wait for the next governor and try again. 


With budget cuts looming and tolerance for tax increases low, Mayor Selmer Borseth of Podunk, MN, pop. 732, has put out a call for volunteers to mow the lawn around the fire hall. 

The fire hall doubles as the city council chambers and contains a small corner office for the city clerk. The exterior is painted lime green. Letters cut from plywood and painted pink spell out “Podunk, A City On The Move” on the wall outside the entrance. 

In the past, the fire hall lawn was mowed by high school kids hired for the summer, the same ones they hired to wash out the wastebaskets at the school. There were usually six of them, and because washing wastebaskets and mowing lawn were their only duties, the job eventually got done. 

But funding or the Disheveled and Disadvantaged Youth Summer Employment Program was cut by the legislature last session. As a result, keeping the lawn mowed would require a tax hike, which would mean a referendum and maybe a bond levy, and nobody has the initiative for that. 

Mayor Borseth and the city council agree that Podunk’s hard-earned reputation as a progressive community required that the lawn outside the chambers of government be kept below knee-level. But they don’t care to do it themselves. 

What about city maintenance man Earl Poduski? Can’t he do it? Well, Earl’s too smart for that. In his twenty-seven years of working for the city, Earl knows better than to take on anything new. 

Earl knows that if you take on something new, people will think you mustn’t have been busy enough before. If they get the idea that all you do is drink coffee and smoke cigarettes, they’ll start piling on projects until you don’t have any time to drink coffee and smoke cigarettes. 

Earl keeps his job description, which was carefully developed over the course of 17 contentious city council meetings in the late 1980s, in his shirt pocket. Wouldn’t you know, there’s nothing in there about mowing the lawn around the fire hall. 

So, with the weeds growing high, Mayor Borseth put out his call for volunteers. Response was light. In fact, there was none. 

It’s difficult to imagine what the mayor was thinking. After all, Podunk’s churches can’t even get their parishioners to mow the cemetery anymore, much less drop enough into the offering plate to hire it done. 

If churches can’t guilt people into doing something for nothing, City Hall can’t expect to do much better. Who in their right mind would rally to the cause of the entity which sends out the water bill? No, the mayor was off in la-la land when he came up with that one. 

So, it looks like City Clerk Jenna Henderson will have to prod her husband Joe out of the bar long enough to push the mower around the fire hall a few times. That is, if she doesn’t want sweet clover to overtake her workplace. 

Joe’s on permanent disability due to a back injury–but he can still mow, particularly if there is a six-pack involved. 

And, who knows, mowing the lawn at the fire hall might give Joe a sense of purpose. He might take pride in the place. People might see a transformation in Joe and pass the hat to reward him for his nice work. 

Yes, spurred by budget cuts, a new spirit of volunteerism just might sweep through Podunk and across the country. 

Pass the hat, people! 

Just don’t call it a tax.