BLITHE SPIRIT A Weekly Commentary, March 20, 1996 -- the schools, the schools, can't live with 'em . . . without 'em . . .
Two Cents and worth it.
Oh happy day . . .
Allow a little chauvinism here: THE HIGH SCHOOL REFERENDUM WON, thanks to a lot of lions lying down with a lot of lambs. New board member Gerry Jacobs, whose River Forest home has also made news, obviously played a key role, brokering togetherness.
Beaucoups de kudos also to three main groups, not in order of importance: those willing to rethink opposition, those willing to repackage advocacy, and those willing to take pay cuts. It takes a whole village (in this case two of them) to pass a referendum (in this case two of them). Let's hug one another. (Unfortunately having to avoid unfriendly glances of taxpayers with or, more likely, without kids in public schools. This is a 2022 editorial addition/comment.)
Job action, anyone?
General Motors is up for grabs because of outsourcing. The auto workers know an issue when they see one. Not so the teachers at Oak Park's Irving School, where a commercial tutoring operation is being hired to teach reading.
Scores are down, and authorities apparently can't or won't count on teachers to supply what's missing. This apparently is in line with the teachers' contract. Is it?
In any event, were I a teacher, I'd be looking over my shoulder, wondering if Downs and Privat, the Izer twins, are coming.
When good thoughts occur to different people . . .
Seneca of old Rome asks, "Why do bad things happen frequently to good people?" But Harold Kushner, author of the 1981 best-seller When Bad Things Happen to Good People, makes no mention of that.
Great minds run in the same tracks, clearly. Seneca wrote: "You have asked me, Lucilius [his friend], why, if the world is ruled by providence," etc. This old Roman piety is something. He and others assumed a providence. As bad as things were, chaos did not rule. It took us to discover chaos as a ruling principle. We are older, sadder, maybe wiser than they. But I don’t think so.
Kushner's book is a marvel of anecdotal detail. He's in the tradition of Greek and Roman essayists in that. In his debt to Seneca, a Stoic, he's in another tradition, the Christian, even if he is a rabbi.
Christians owe a lot to Stoic philosophers. Epictetus, a late 1st- and early 2nd-century Greek, reads like a Christian. You'd think he cribbed from Paul, but it's agreed he didn't. It was before Gutenberg, remember.
So he did not find Paul appealing -- nor (Norman Vincent) Peale appalling, as Adlai Stevenson did. It seems to have been the other way around.
There's the Hellenic (Greek) influence, but what about the Hellenic foundation? How much of Christianity is Greek thought? Hellenism permeated things in those days. The Romans borrowed from it. So, clearly, did those heretical Jews, the first Christians.
The Romans knew a good thing, and Stoic philosophy, with its exaltation of spirit over matter, looked very good indeed -- a way out of the world's morass.
So did Christians know a good thing. And it's fascinating how much of Christianity seems to have been revealed not by God but by Stoics, and I think by Cynics before them. More on that stuff later, including pithy quotes sadly lacking from this (could be?) preface to a thesis.
But if you wanted chapter and verse on these things, you'd pay good money for Garry Wills and his ilk. Take good things where you find them, eh?
Battered for Jesus . . .
Some years back, in the '60s, some white friends of mine organized black home-buyers in Lawndale so they could negotiate better deals. They were buying on contract, which meant they had no equity and could lose the house for a missed payment. You can do that with missed mortgage payments too, but it takes longer.
The Contract Buyers League was community organizing on a highly recognizable issue -- home ownership for the working poor. My organizer friends lived in a big apartment. One of their roomies was a young local whom they befriended. His being there also gave a bit of added legitimacy: Whitey wasn't in this on his own, etc.
Whitey wasn't on his own, by a long shot, anyway. The contract buyers were no-nonsense people with heads screwed on relatively straight. It was pretty much their ball game. Still, my friends liked having the guy around. He was big and strong, for one thing, and you never know when that will help in a tough neighborhood. I take that back. You always know, and it's all the time.
But one night the young man decided he didn't like his white friends and began punching them out, one by one. They were Jesuits and full of nonviolence except on the softball diamond, and anyhow there was a political problem. If they had to get cops to haul this guy away, what would that do to their project? Black eyes were one thing, but a black eye for the project was another.
My friends wouldn't even let neighborhood men step in. One said he'd go home and get his gun and calm the young man down. They declined, though it was like telling Wyatt Earp to hold off while the Dalton Brothers went on a spree. No matter. The Jesuits rode it out, and finally the young man, unable to pick a fight, left.
The young man's problem had been the loss of face he suffered by being helped by those people. He resented it. Apparently full of anger at his plight, he was not easy to help.
Oh unhappy day . . .
You're down at the bus station on Harrison Street west of South Loop, getting your kid after a cross-country trip. You and the wife greet him, hug, unload his stuff into the minivan. Homeward bound, James, the wife might have said.
But this guy had come up and given us a line, us simple suburbanites, had shaken hands all around, been cheeky but never quite crossed the line. Anyhow, with all his cheek, let's just be on our way, you think. Be cordial, say goodbye, he's off in his beat-up old car, you get ready to leave.
First, light dawning, you tell the son to check for his wallet, you check for yours. Wife checks for hers. Too late. Hers is gone. Mr. Friendly has lifted it. You feel stupid and violated.
Lulled by suburban fantasies -- how to fix the office up to best advantage, what poetry to read tonight, how to make the next buck with relative ease -- bourgeois considerations -- you have let your guard down. You deserve what happened.
Drugs cost money, you forgot that. And Blues -- that's what he goes by around the bus station, we learn -- needs both. Sheeeeeeittt!
In the end, beauty over justice . . .
English novelist George Gissing thirsted for justice as a young man and wrote of the oppressed and dispossessed. Later he shifted gears, aiming instead to portray and promote beauty as the more solid contribution to the "health" of the world.
I dig it. Deliver me from the intense seeker after justice, spreading a mirror image of the sour and the sordid after her or him. Humor if any is merely a tool for him. Among them is grim attachment to hard reality. Beauty, they figure, is for bourgeois fools.
Take newspaper reporting. Reporters should be detached, even not give a damn. Concerned reporters are advocates who undercut their profession by sacrifice of credibility.
If they don't look disinterested, they are not believed. Yes, Watergate was a watershed. Redford and Dustin Hoffman looked so good dashing about and talking to that guy in the parking garage. The book made good reading too.
But what they did admirably was not give up, not to care, basically, as long as they got the story. Getting Nixon was part of it but not the whole thing. The whole thing was getting the story.
Good reporters reject bad-guys, good-guys scenarios. As they feel pushed and pulled by evidence to tilt, they decide it doesn't matter who's right and wrong. What matters is their credibility, because without that they and their profession go down the tubes.
More to the point, schooling . . .
Schools also betray their calling, by downplaying beauty for social concerns. They should learn from Gissing, who had concern and sensitivity to burn. He looked at what he'd done and what he wanted to do, and made a choice.
As a young man he set to writing about "the hideous injustice of our whole system of society." Later he decided, "The only thing known to us of absolute value is artistic perfection. The ravings of fanatics -- justifiable or not -- pass away; but the works of the artist . . . remain sources of health to the world." (Italics added.)
Say it again, George. Hot-eyed zealots cry for relevance and veer towards indoctrination. Have Oak Park schools had this problem?
WJ . . .
A look at the Wednesday Journal:
* The headline story begins, "Despite low voter turnout" the referendum was passed, etc. But low turnout is supposed to help pass referendums. Did WJ mean to undercut this conventional wisdom? Or did the copy editor go to bed early that night?
* The gang task force story looked familiar, down to the wholly acceptable quote, "Our whole goal is not to have gangs get a foothold in this community." Another shock of recognition arrived with the news that "an update" on task force activity is coming in late April. WJ gives good space to this, reporting with straight face, unless I'm missing something.
Did the hit man come?
The Chicago Avenue florist-shop shootings -- of two women and a child -- look more like hit man's work than robber's, to judge from news accounts. If the shootings make for a "sense of loss of innocence," as one official was quoted, it's this execution-style aspect. The big guy came and shot and left, in a car, with apparent method to his madness.
NB. It's time to start telling me you want to receive this (limited edition) Blithe Spirit bird. Say you do want it, in the next few weeks, or your copy goes to another possibly undeserving soul.