The Morning File: Gov. Rendell's civics class -- the alternate version

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A news release from Harrisburg last week announced: "Gov. Edward G. Rendell will teach a one-hour, statewide civics class at 11 a.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 25. ... The governor's lesson plan centers around how a state budget is planned, presented and implemented."

The Morning File was not able to be there, but imagines the class could have gone something like this:

Rendell: OK, everyone settle down. If you'll just open your textbook to the chapter on massive deficits beyond government's ability to address, we can begin.

Joey: Hey, where's Mr. Fumo? I thought he was supposed to be teaching us today.

Rendell: Vincent Fumo is, uh, indisposed and may not be back for quite some time. I'm subbing.

Lavonne: Too bad. Mr. Fumo always brings cool things to class whenever he's here. This budget stuff is boring.

Rendell: It may be boring, but it's important. For instance, you have to understand the math involved in gambling. The more money your parents lose gambling, the better off they are.

Cheryl: Huh? You got to explain that better, Mr. Rendell. I'm not getting that. (The rest of the class murmurs puzzlement.)

Rendell (diagramming on chalkboard): It's simple. Let's say we legalize video poker. So your mom stops at her favorite bar on her way home on payday. Let's say she loses $200 in the poker machine. But meanwhile, we create a tuition grant program that gives you $1,000 in financial aid next year. You're really way ahead, see? Any questions?

Nate: Yeah, both my parents are recovering alcoholics who have transitioned to a new addiction to gambling. How's this going to help them?

Rendell: No questions? Good, let's move on. It's important that you understand the benefits of privatizing the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

Joey: My uncle, who just got laid off from truck driving, complains the turnpike tolls just got raised in January and says they'd get raised even more under some private company.

Rendell: Well, heh heh, how smart can he be? He drives a truck, after all.

Joey: Actually, he earned his MBA from Wharton last spring, but no one's been doing any hiring since then.

Rendell: Tell him to apply to one of the casinos -- they're going great guns. Now then, let me explain the benefits of the $787 billion economic stimulus package for Pennsylvania. You see --

Lavonne: I know what I see. The Democratic Party is mortgaging my future. I'm going to be saddled with incredible tax burdens years from now because you and other government leaders got the country into a giant mess.

Rendell: Now, that's a little simplistic. Let me --

Nate: No, she's right, Mr. Rendell. Everyone in elected office wants to avoid tough decisions and slap on Band-Aids and quick fixes. Why is that?

Rendell: Nate, do you want to be sent to the principal's office?

Nate: No, but --

Rendell: Quit disrupting the class then. Actually, you're all going to be a lot better off soon, because we're planning a new system of competency tests to make sure you've actually learned something before graduating from high school.

Cheryl: What, more tests? I am so tested out already, and I'm a lot smarter than ever shows up on tests. I just get nervous and forget things.

Rendell: That's why we're going to have your teachers teach to the test, so you won't have to worry so much. Just show up for class, and I'm sure you'll pass.

Nate: But with all these tests, we don't ever spend time any more discussing theories or analyzing concepts or really trying to understand the world.

Rendell: Nate, this is your last warning about disruptions, young man! And I do have the right to execute you, if you've forgotten that from our prior civics lesson.

Joey: Hey, chill, Mr. Rendell. I was wondering, since we only have a couple of minutes left, can you go over the new sex-education curriculum with us? The school board decided we can talk about things besides abstinence now, but I'm confused about what the other options are.

Rendell: Just don't have eight babies at once and expect the state welfare system to pay for it. We can't afford it right now. And I'm afraid that's all we have time for today, but you've been a wonderful class. I hope you'll all apply to the Governor's Schools of Excellence this summer. Oh no, wait -- we had to scrap those. Forget that last comment, everyone. But have a great day in Pennsylvania!

Gary Rotstein can be reached at or 412-263-1255.


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