George Piper

George Piper

Lebanon Reporter

In George Bernard Shaw’s play “Pygmalion,” we see Professor Henry Higgins attempt to transform Eliza Doolittle from a poor street-wise Cockney flower girl into a proper English woman.

The story — more popularly known as “My Fair Lady” in stage and screen productions — poses an interesting question. Did Eliza become a better person because she learned proper manners and customs, or is she the same crusty lass, only with nicer clothes and an enhanced vocabulary?

Locally, there are a couple of issues that raise a similar question.

The Lebanon Community School Board will soon address the need for a standardized dress policy in its schools. To some critics, making students dress nicer doesn’t raise test scores or make any positive contribution to education. To these critics, Lebanon schools will still lag behind Zionsville and other area school districts no matter what color pants and shirt the kids are wearing.

Recently, the city of Lebanon authorized $196,000 to study improvements for the gateways, corridors and the downtown. Critics of the study plan say city should take that money and improve existing sidewalks and/or use a plan developed last year by Ball State University.

Using the Pygmalion analogy, would nicer clothes and spruced up streets make Lebanon a better place, or would it be the same place it’s always been, only with better aesthetics? I would argue that it’s the former.

Regardless of being for or against dress codes or gateways, one would have to agree that both would be positive changes for the community. We know what we look like now. The unknown is what we can become.

Is a nice polo shirt by itself going to give Johnny better grades? No. But float with me down this stream of consciousness: School board passes dress code. Time previously spent on determining if the former dress code was being met is instead spent on education (those minutes add up). Students aren’t distracted by what their peers are wearing or judging others based on what they wear. Teachers don’t subconsciously pre-judge students based on their appearance. A better atmosphere leads to better performance collectively which leads to greater recognition which leads to families who want to see their children succeed educationally choosing Lebanon over surrounding areas.

On the gateways, Lebanon needs them. A few years ago, I drove through Toledo, Ohio. Entering on U.S. 24 from the west, you’re greeted by a boulevard divided by a grassy median with well-maintained buildings and green space. I was surprised. My prior knowledge of Toledo had been as the home of Klinger from M*A*S*H*.

Now comparing Toledo to Lebanon is not comparing apples to apples. But the fact that when I think of Toledo I visualize this boulevard entryway makes me think that Lebanon would be viewed differently by visitors and prospective clients and citizens. Nor is it fair to compare the Ball State study to the one recently approved. While Ball State’s document offered good suggestions, it didn’t address the finances — something the new study should include.

Is $196,000 too much to spend? That’s likely in the ballpark with what an engineering firm would charge. But it doesn’t matter if the study costs $196,000 or $1.96. If it’s ultimate purpose is a thick paperweight, any amount is a waste of money. The time will come — as my delicate mother would say — to bleep or get off the pot.

I don’t think the city is forking over $200,000 in a tight economy for a paperweight. It would be nice to hear more details on what our gateways committee is doing, either in a posting city’s Web site, in a letter in our utility bill or in a story in The Lebanon Reporter — or all three.

Back to Pygmalion. The professor falls for Doolittle, who ends up marrying someone from the high society crowd. In the end, Doolittle betters her situation thanks to the transformation stimulated by Professor Higgins.

So what will is be? Pig or Pygmalion?

Seems we’ve been the pig long enough.

— George Piper is a Lebanon resident and former managing editor at The Lebanon Reporter.

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