Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Take your ball and go home

And here's where I try to offend and enrage some of my friends. For those not in Laramie, there was a bit of a row when UW announced the closure of the Geological Museum along with a host of other cuts made necessary by a shortfall in the budget. There were letters to the editor, messages across listserves, and video posts decrying the action. "Where will the children learn about dinosaurs!? How will they learn to love science?!" Essentially, the message was that the big bad President and his cronies were taking the dinos away from the kiddos. Of course, it's not as simple as all that.

Don't get me wrong; I wasn't happy to hear the museum was closing either. My mother brought us here on vacations, and we always made it a point to swing through the museum. I came here with just about any school trip that made it as far south as Laramie, and remember walking through the display of rocks that reacted to UV lights on junior high and high school trips for competitions held on campus. As a student at UW, I would stroll through from time to time, checking to see what was new or what had changed. I don't want to see it close, but I also know that President Buchanan and the rest of the UW admin don't WANT it to happen either.

Budget problems mean tough choices. They can mean that Jesse and I don't join our friends for a night on the town because we have to buy dog food for the kids and Ramen for ourselves. They can also mean that a museum closes to save staffing dollars and overhead costs, rather than cutting scholarship programs that keep current students in school or cutting a major from the books. No matter what gets cut, you can be certain that SOMEONE is not going to like it, someone is going to miss the services they once enjoyed, and someone might lose their job. I'm certainly glad I'm not the person who has to decide which person isn't needed as much as someone else. But that's the choice we're left with at times. I may not agree with all the decisions made, but I also don't have ALL the facts in front of me. Call me foolish, but having spent some time with the President and other admin types at UW, I really do believe they have its best interests at heart.

This week UW announced that the Foundation had secured funding for a security position for the museum, meaning they can reopen their doors. True, it will probably not have the same hours, and there won't be a curator there to offer tours on a whim. It's not the same as it was. To me, it's much more important that UW listened to the public outcry, and did what they could to make it better. The kids can once again see the dinosaurs. They can wonder at the "ordinary rocks" that glow in the dark when you push the button for the black light. Science has once again been given to the little ones. Wouldn't you think that people would be a bit happier?

So far, I've only heard complaints. "What about Brent's (the curator) job? Who will lead tours?! Who will share their knowledge?! This is unacceptable!" This angers me. I wish Brent could keep his job and that nothing had to change. But it does, and it doesn't help matters to point fingers and do nothing but bitch. It might be an assumption, but I figure most visitors to the museum can read, and there's plenty of signage to offer a self-guided tour. Not every museum has tours, and yet I've managed to enjoy and learn from them anyway. For those who are too young to read, it's a pretty safe bet that they'll be accompanied by someone who can. Parents or teachers, perhaps. Will people get the same amount of info, or be able to have a random question answered on the spot? Probably not.

So what? Shockingly enough, you might have to go LOOK UP INFORMATION FOR YOURSELF. You might have to go find an answer for your children. And that's actually a good thing, folks. It teaches them how to get answers for themselves, rather than having to rely on someone else being there to spoon-feed you facts. My mother made me look up words in the dictionary too, and I lived to tell about it. I even developed a thirst for knowledge, and to this day will look up info on my own. It's called learning. I refuse to believe that we've become so lazy that we are incapable of learning on our own. We're too used to asking Wikipedia, the History Channel, our professors, the nightly news, or anyone else to tell us what's important. To condense knowledge into bite-sized digestible pieces that fit into our shortened attention spans.

UW is doing its best to meet folks half-way. They know the museum is a great resource and that it's important to people. So they're doing what they can in a tough situation. The way I see it, we can sit back and poo-poo the fact that it won't be as good as it was or exactly the way we think it ought to be. We can focus on what they're not GIVING us rather than the effort they're making despite a lack of funds. Or we could recognize that they're focusing on what people said was the biggest problem with the closure. That they're willing to listen to public comment. Which is more wise? I know what my mother would have done. She's the one who taught me that if someone else is buying and cooking grilled cheese for dinner, I better not complain that it's not the steak I really wanted.

So don't expect sympathy or sorrow from me because you only got part of what you asked for. Don't be surprised if I don't loathe the President with the same venom as you because he had to make a tough choice. My mother raised me better than that, and perhaps if more people did the same, our students would score better on tests, be better prepared before entering the work force, and would develop a deeper love of learning...you know...that stuff you said was the most tragic loss and insult. The learning will still be there, you just might have to be a little more active in the process.

Today's lesson...well, lessons:
  • Sometimes we can't have everything we want; it might just help us to appreciate what we DO have.
  • There isn't always enough to go around, but it might help us think about what we can do without.
  • We don't always get to set the rules of the game or decide who gets to play, and there's no promise we'll win. The important thing is that we play fair, be good competitors (even when we don't get our way), and don't just try to pick up our ball and go home when we're not happy.