Cherry Hill, New Jersey: Not So Bright

Despite its name, the town of Cherry Hill, New Jersey has neither cherries nor hills.  Its chief claim to fame is that it boasts of being the home of the first enclosed shopping mall east of the Mississippi River.  The mall sort of symbolizes the town:  it is the heart of Cherry Hill and it stands for the acquisition of material things.

Cherry Hill has long been a destination for the upwardly mobile of the greater Philadelphia area, who can be spotted throughout southern New Jersey because of the arrogant and self-entitled manner in which they park their SUVs.  The Curmudgeon’s family came thisclose to moving to Cherry Hill when he was eight years old, and he will forever be grateful that at $18,000, the house his parents liked cost $1500 more than they felt they could possibly swing back in 1966.

In truth, Cherry Hill seems like a nice place to raise a family.  The Curmudgeon’s younger brother lives there, and he and his wife and the prodigal nephew have a lovely and affordable home in a lovely and affordable neighborhood, and if the nephew seems a bit spoiled, he’s still a great and to all appearances well-adjusted young man just a few months shy of his driver’s license.  Cherry Hill has no real main street:  there was talk about creating one out of whole cloth a few years ago but the city’s fathers, consistent with the nature and character of the place, thought better of it and lured a Wegman’s to town instead.  One of the more charming yet alarming things about those town fathers is that the chief town father, the mayor, is an elderly fellow who chooses to spend most of the winter in Florida.  Crime?  Snow?  Don’t bother me:  I’m working on my tan and taking advantage of the early bird special.  (He just retired this week after twelve years in office.)

Cherry Hill has long had a reputation for its support of public education and its good schools.  That reputation, people who know far better than The Curmudgeon tell him, has been mostly undeserved for the past fifteen years or so, but the schools in the town are still considered top-flight – just not as top-flight as they once were.  To the casual observer, though, Cherry Hill seems to be sending mixed signals about its commitment to young people.

On one hand, the town opened a new public library a few years ago.  It’s a beautiful building and, it would seem on the surface, a symbol of the town’s commitment to education.

On the other hand, around the same time Cherry Hill opened its new public library, it reduced its public education budget.  We hear about school boards trying to keep a lid on spending and even not increasing their spending for a year, but we seldom hear about one actually planning to spend less next year than it spends this year.  The school superintendent was unimpressed:  he found another job and left town.

So what’s the story with Cherry Hill?  Committed to public education or losing interest?

The Curmudgeon’s travels in the wilds of southern New Jersey, just a few minutes from the Delaware River, often take him past a certain public school in Cherry Hill.  More than a few schools in this part of the world – as The Curmudgeon imagines is true of many places – are named after local residents distinguished for their achievement in one area or another; among the five public schools The Curmudgeon attended in Philadelphia were the Solomon Solis-Cohen School, the Aloysius L. Fitzpatrick School, and the Robert Blair Pollock School – not exactly household names, even in Philadelphia.  This particular Cherry Hill public school building has one sign along the road that says “J.F. Cooper School” and another on the building itself that says “James F. Cooper School.”  The Curmudgeon imagined that Mr. Cooper was the town’s mayor in the 1940s, or maybe the guy who owned the Latin Casino, a nightclub at which Frank Sinatra used to sing.

The Curmudgeon thought little of this the first few times he passed the school, other than to note the slight difference in the signs.  Then, one day, the light bulb went on:

J.F. Cooper

James F. Cooper

Oh!  That’s James Fenimore Cooper!

JAMES FENIMORE COOPER!!!

The mental midgets in charge of public education in Cherry Hill seem blissfully unaware that they have named one of their elementary schools after one of the most distinguished and important writers in the history of American literature!  James FENIMORE Cooper – author of The Last of the MohicansThe Deerslayer, and The Pathfinder, among others.  James FENIMORE Cooper:  creator of the nickname by which we all know M*A*S*H Captain Benjamin Franklin Pierce.

Unaware or, more likely, insufficiently impressed to give the famous writer his due.

What could they be thinking?  Do they not know?  Do they not care?  Do they think they’re saving money on signs by omitting the lengthy middle name?

Do they think it’s just no big deal?

Or do they just not think at all?

Whatever they think, what we think should be clear:  Cherry Hill, New Jersey may still be a destination for the upwardly mobile, but the growing body of evidence suggests that the people making the decisions in that town place little value on giving their children the kind of education that fosters upward mobility.  Perhaps, amid the town-wide obsession with acquisitiveness, they don’t find it possible to respect a great man of letters.

How sad.

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Comments

  • Scott  On January 6, 2012 at 5:05 pm

    …and all these years I thought that Haddonfield Road was “Main Street”…

    YOU GO, C.M.!!!

  • foureyedcurmudgeon  On January 6, 2012 at 5:08 pm

    Well, it’s no Bustleton Avenue, but…

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