BLITHE SPIRIT Weekly Commentary Jim Bowman, Editor & Publisher Oak Park IL April 10, 1996
Two Cents and worth it
Rubbing noses in it . . .
. . . in Elk Grove Village, where American history classes sat watching photos of the gruesomely disfigured face of the late Emmett Till. He's the black kid from Chicago who was murdered in Mississippi in 1955. His mother showed the pictures to these high school kids as part of her ongoing effort to keep his memory alive, presumably. The Elk Grove kids were subjected for an hour to the soul-searing shots, as reported in the 4/11 Tribune ("Unforgettable history lesson stirs students"). Why?
So they will identify with the black cause, presumably, or learn history at gut level, or be led to consider what might happen to each of them for getting out of line on unfriendly turf. All three maybe, and more.
My question: Is this education? Does it teach kids how to think or what to think? Or is it indoctrination, and not just any kind but what fills the mind with fantasies that lead to nightmares or worse.
Do school people think this sort of thing justifies itself on grounds of crash-course history or consciousness-raising or sensitizing to the plight of oppressed people? No more than pushing a kid's face into doggy-do to make a point about animal control.
It's manipulation. The purpose of school is to inoculate kids against manipulation, not subject them to it. But this happened in school, to a captive audience, with school-size pressure to conform and major guilt-tripping reserved for those who refuse.
What's next? An anti-rape film showing a brutal rape?
Oscar, Oscar . . .
In the 3/27 Oak Leaves, columnist Randy Blaser awards his own Oscars. For instance, "Best short subject" award went to the Roman candle-like story of the OPRF High student who, suspended for shoving his coach, transferred to the city basketball powerhouse Farragut Academy only to be forbidden to play for that team. Etc. Four, maybe five of the awards are pretty straightforward, and the treatment is clever.
But two of the awards are quite harsh, in a flat-affect manner that heightens the harshness. These two, condemnatory and ridiculing of the OPRF superintendent and its past board president, are sandwiched between others that offer praise or at least grudging commendation. Thus the reader is joshed along, as it were, and then arrested by vitriol. A little bit of sugar makes the venom go down easier, it's true. Still . . .
Oh say can you see . . .
In the 4/10 Wednesday Journal, columnist Ken Trainor meditates on the national anthem, more or less supporting the NBA player who wouldn't stand for it. Trainor gets excited about it. NBA players are "overgrown spoiled rich kids" who make a habit of "beating each other's brains out beneath the basket." Rich imagery there, to be sure.
The recusant player, a Muslim, was "vilified" and "in another era . . . might have been burned at the stake." Actually, something like burning might have happened to him in any number of countries today, other eras notwithstanding. And media commentary was rather restrained and included reporting of how other Muslims felt about it.
Finally, the player seemed willing to withhold "undying fealty to an oppressive nation," as if standing for the anthem said all that. But it's the oppressive-nation part that tells. Trainor drops allusions to slavery and forcing Indians onto reservations -- other eras again. He's just so angry about it all.
But what he's done is massage breast-beating readers, pressing buttons sure to gain applause, sincere as he surely is when he does so.
Compared to what?
In what Trainor says, what stands out is a Camelot mentality that says somewhere there's a land where bad things don't happen, there's a world power that rules by love, there's a small unassuming country where differences are appreciated. What he and other critics don't ask is how this country or village or high school compares to others.
Taking the high school and how it works with (and for) black kids. Does it discipline black kids at a higher rate than comparable schools? Does it achieve worse results with them than other schools? This lends perspective to complaining and protesting. What's happening elsewhere?
Just recently Evanston High virtually threw in the towel on trying to elevate black and Hispanic kids academically, after ten years and lots of money and involving everyone in sight, the school reported some months back. You have to get parents in on the project, the report said. Good advice, but we knew it already.
Evanston was not criticized for any of this, nor should it be. You try, you do your best, you admit failure if you fail. But should Oak Park & River Forest High School be roundly criticized because its black kids don't perform well enough academically? Compared to whom?
Class sizes . . .
While on the issue of high-school education, let us note in passing that class size matters. I speak as an English teacher not currently in a classroom: you have so much time for paper correcting, and that's it. The mind falters, the red pen slips from the weary hand, there's an end to analyzing what's right and wrong with a composition.
So if you intend to add students to a teacher's class to save money, as OPRF High School has done, then be prepared for lesser educational results. It's a downsizing (of staff) with predictable results.
— And that’s this post’s readers’ two cents worth of 1996’s Blithe Spirit’s commentary for now! Don’t despair, use your head, save your hair, use Fitch shampoo if you will, but mainly your patience!