Power of the Dog

Like many Americans I watched Gabriel Sterling, a Georgia election official, as he pleaded for some his fellow Republicans to soften their rhetoric. His emotions showed as he implored elected leaders such as President Trump to stop their lies, and he said, “”Someone’s going to get hurt, someone’s going to get shot, someone’s going to get killed,” Sterling went on to say that he and other public officials, and some private citizens, had received death threats because of their opposition to President Trump’s attempts to overturn the Georgia election.

While a part of me admired Gabriel Sterling’s honesty in speaking out against Trump and his attempts to damage our democracy, I wondered had he not heard the racist language of the president he supported by his vote? Had Sterling not been listening as Trump attacked Representative Omar and questioned her patriotism and suggested that she should be removed?

Did Sterling not hear Trump’s words as he maligned Latino refugees? Or had Sterling only heard Trump’s words when they threatened him, other public officials, and their families?

            On NPR Sterling, however, showed his truth when he said that he would vote for Perdue and  Loeffler, the Georgia Republican Senate candidates, because “The future of the republic is at stake. I’ve been fighting for these values my entire life, and I’m not going to leave my party. I’m going to fight to make my party the party that it needs to be.”

            Sterling and others who think as he should study Psalms 22 and consider how the dog, when let loose, will turn on anyone. The “power of the dog” is dangerous to us all, even the likes of Gabriel Sterling.

A Warning from 1919

Written in 1919, Yeats’ poem carries as much warning in December 2020 as ever. We have a president who lost but flames the fires of his MAGA worshipers. Not even United State Senators will call for calm but remain silent for reasons of greed and power. Read The Second Coming and ponder its warning of things falling apart because the center, our democracy, is being torn apart and will not hold under such an onslaught.

The Second Coming

BY WILLIAM BUTLER YEATS

Turning and turning in the widening gyre  

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere  

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst  

Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;

Surely the Second Coming is at hand.  

The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out  

When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi

Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert  

A shape with lion body and the head of a man,  

A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,  

Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it  

Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.  

The darkness drops again; but now I know  

That twenty centuries of stony sleep

Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,  

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,  

Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Aspirations

This past weekend the news media was busy reporting on Sarah Fuller becoming the first female to play in a Power Five football game. It seems that Vanderbilt, which is 0-8, needed a kicker so the coach asked a senior soccer player if she would kick against Missouri. Ms. Fuller did, and her second half kickoff was what we used to call “a squib”. It covered about 35 yards. After she kicked she jogged directly over to the  Vanderbilt sideline instead of staying on the field to help cover any runback. Later Ms. Fuller explained to news outlets that her participation showed that no female should ever doubt what could be accomplished.

I applaud Ms. Fuller for stepping up to help her college’s football team. She even spoke to the team during halftime. She was asked and she did the best she could. But what does her appearance in the game mean for female aspirations? Is her appearance, the fourth time for a female in college football, a gauge for female success? I doubt that.

When women use participation in men sports as a measuring stick for equality, such as a female kicking in a college football game or men’s soccer game, they allow male domination to continue. I suggest that there is little advancement for a “level playing field” made when women celebrate such participation. Young Fuller’s participation on the field against Missouri was not level. It was not equal because she is not capable of competing against the Missouri players, nor should she be able to. At that level, male players are much bigger and stronger, even the opposing kickers.

In the late 1990’s I was the track and field coach at an all-girls’ high school in D.C. We used the track at our “brother school”, and the coach of the boys’ school was a good friend. We decided to combine our teams since we all were on the track at the same time. Little did I know how the girls and their school would react to this news. For days I was questioned concerning my decision and often was told, “We can’t compete with the boys, coach,” or “How do you expect the girls to feel about competing with the boys?” After many conversations explaining that the girls were not competing with the boys but were practicing with them, we were able to proceed with the merger. I also reminded the girls that they would be able to do the workouts with some of the boys and to use them as motivators. In fact, the older girls soon savored the fact that they could outperform some of the younger boys in workouts. Before that first season was over, the girls and boys saw each other as teammates, not competitors because each knew that no playing field can ever be level, but the field of an opportunity must be. Each of those track and field athletes was given the chance to compete in a just arena to do his or her best.

This past week a new United States female record for ten miles was set. In Washington, DC, a 36-year-old real estate agent, mother of two, and wife broke the old record by 49 seconds. Keira D’Amato, an un-sponsored runner, broke the record set six years by former Olympian Janet Bawcom at the 2014 Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run. You do the math for her time of 51:23 and figure her average mile time. For me, when I road raced at her age, I never ran even one mile as fast as D’Amato averaged for those ten miles.

The United States women’s soccer team defeated the Netherlands recently by a 2-0 score. While that is good news, I think there is more to celebrate in that game when Kristie Mewis came in as a second-half substitute and scored in the 70th minute. It was Mewis’ second score for the U.S. team. Her first came in 2013. Imagine waiting over 2700 days to play again and to even score in such a high level of sport.

Women sports offer females a multitude of opportunities to compete. Yes, at certain levels, such as in youth sports, the sexes are combined for expedient’s sake, such as in wrestling, running, or football. And at that level, girls will often outperform boys. But eventually the sexes separate, and we must ensure that the opportunity to compete is equalized. A female kicker, running back, or point guard at the age of ten is not the same as her at the age of twenty. Nor should it be. Let’s level and maintain that opportunity but leave the kick-off to the boys.

A Tribute Too Late

In September, 1968 I left my hometown in North Carolina and travelled to Maryland where I began teaching in a rural county on its Eastern Shore.  Like most recent college graduates, I was eager and knew I was ready to “change the world.” I had four years of learning behind me that I felt had given me all that was necessary to conquer any hurdle that presented itself. I had, as Mark Twain observed, “the confidence of a Christian holding four aces.”  When I arrived to my assigned junior high school, I was not fazed by the number of students assigned for my two 7th grade classes of Language Arts/Social Studies, the poverty of my students, and all the problems their poverty would present. After all, I had my degree, and one of my sisters had helped me carefully choose a small, but versatile wardrobe fitting for a young educator. 

Because this was early in the integration of the county’s schools, the tracking system was used.  In such a system students were placed in classes based on academic scores. My two classes of Language Arts/Social Studies were sections 7-14 and 7-4, one the lowest academic class, and the other near the top of the academic ladder. My 7-14 section met in the morning in the main building, and after lunch 7-4 met in the National Guard Armory directly behind the school.  The racial make-up of the fourteen sections was not surprising—the lower sections were all Black and the highest sections were white, and in the middle sections there was some balance of Blacks and whites. However, as I mentioned, I was ready to take on any problem of education and to correct it. I do not remember myself as being arrogant, but I was confident.

Many of my sixty odd students were mired in poverty. Before too long I learned how to ignore the odor of clothes worn too often without being washed, or the breath from a mouth that knew no oral hygiene, or the sour stench of urine. I learned how to smile when I gave my Chap Stick to a student who had asked to borrow mine. If returned, I later would drop it into the trash can. I became accustomed to “loaning” lunch money. I learned to deal with any discipline problems in my room and not to send any unruly student to the school office because that short trip would likely result in a paddling of a Black student by the white principal or his white assistant. I learned to make two lesson plans for my classes—one that I turned in to the principal, and the one that I used in my room. I learned the value of keeping my classroom door closed to the outside world of the school.

An 8th grade girl that I remember as Joyce taught me a valuable lesson about the influence of parents. One day walking down the main hall, I saw a girl at the water fountain. A substitute teacher was calling for her to return quickly to class, and the girl said, “I will when I am ready, God ….” I took the girl to the office and she was suspended. Two days later I was called to the Guidance Counselor’s office of Mr. Jim Robinson. In his office sat Joyce and a woman with disheveled hair and a loose dress covering her amble frame. I noticed that her shoes were well worn like her dress, and that they did not properly fit her calloused feet. Mr. Robinson informed me that Joyce would be allowed to return to school as soon as she apologized to me. The four of us sat in the small office and Mr. Robinson gently told Joyce to apologize to me so that she could return to school, but she just sat looking down at the floor. Mr. Robinson repeated his request a few times with the same result. Finally, Joyce’s mother reached across the sofa they shared, shook her daughter, and said, “God…., Joyce, apologize to this man.”  I looked to Mr. Robinson and said, “I accept Joyce’s apology” and walked out—never to forget that lesson.

Before September was over, I became aware that, although I had knowledge and skills to offer my students and fellow educators, they had offerings that I needed to accept willingly and with grace. One student named Jerry began calling me only by my last name, but he pronounced it as “Baabe”. However, he said it with affection and respect, so I went with it. I became aware that the more I gave my students, especially the less gifted ones, the more they gave me. The words of my Granny Susie resonated in my ears: “Sugar draws more flies than vinegar,” and I learned that for many of my students, kindness was the most important thing I had to offer them. English and social studies could follow.

Four of my colleagues took me under their care and guided me in how to teach and sometimes more. Irvin and his wife Doris, both teachers a bit older than I, fed me good meals since a young single man would not cook or eat healthy. They also offered me social outlets with their friends, and they tolerated my immature actions by always being a safe harbor where I could lick the wounds that only a young man could inflict on himself.  Frank taught me how to live and enjoy each day as if it were a song or other gift involving music. He was, after all, a music teacher. His attitude concerning life was not trivial, he was old enough to be my father, but he had learned that most events in life were not to be taken too seriously.  Fred, too, was old enough to be my father, and he had a “lazy eye” that took me some time to become accustomed to. A large, imposing man, he was an assistant principal, but his office was down the main hallway away from the main office. He taught me how to politically navigate a school and how to avoid conflicts with the administration. He was wise in the way of schools and men. He shared with me all the wisdom of his that I could absorb. But Jim Robinson, the guidance counselor, taught me the biggest lesson of all.

Somewhere in my early months, and for some unknown reason, I began carrying a yard stick. I would use it as a pointer to the chalkboard, tap it on the floor to gain the attention of my students, lean on it when stressing a point or correcting a student’s behavior, or just carry it in my hand as if it were a sword and I a young officer. I don’t remember how long I carried the yard stick, but I will never forget Jim Robinson asking me to come into his office one day during my free period.

After we had settled, Jim asked me about the yard stick and why I carried it. I gave him the best reasons that I could, some of which I have mentioned. He then went on to tell me that my 7-14 students, the ones who had class with me in the main building, came from extremely poor homes. I told him that I was aware of that, but what was his point. He then explained to me how the poverty of their homes meant that their parents were usually uneducated, frustrated by their life circumstances, and sometimes heavy drinkers. He went on to explain that many of the fathers and some mothers were crude and that my students had grown up in brutal environments. Parents like these, he went on to explain, thought little of beating one of my students with a limb or stick or hand. For so many of my students, he said, life at home could be mean, and often the safest place for them was school. I asked Jim what that had to do with me, and he looked at me and said, “The yard stick, Roger. Your students see it as a weapon in your hand. It will make them fear you.” Stunned, I sat for quite a while with Jim in his office, and having taken in all his words and their importance, I thanked him and went to my classroom down the hall and put the yard stick in the room closet. Then Jim surprised me again when a few days later he came into my room and thanked me for listening and explained that our conversation was a rare one in his experience.

In The Odyssey, the young Telemakhos, the son of Odysseus, has Mentor, a comrade of his father, to guide him. I, too, had my Mentors who were Black and they took a young, idealistic white man in their care and worked to help him understand things about living and teaching. And as I look back over these near fifty years since that fall of 1968 and write about them, I thank them for their patience, wisdom, and willingness to share their craft with a young man. They taught me much, but most of all they taught me, as we say in teaching literature, the point-of-view–to see every “yard stick” through the eyes of a child.

Thank you, Irvin and Doris, Frank, Fred, and Jim.

Note: I wrote this essay in May, 2018, but think of it Thanksgiving, 2020 because those five good people are still remembered and cherished for their goodness over fifty years ago. As much as anyone or anything, they helped form me.

Fear Mongering

Justice Samuel Alito warns us of the restrictions on our liberties because of the pandemic. He warns us that nothing like this has happened before, but I guess he does not remember the blackouts during WW II. If he has a gripe against a ruling for same sex marriage or any other one, he should say that. But he will not because he wants to stroke fear, not offer an honest opinion. He is one more fear-monger we must suffer with because of his life appointment

From Millions to Begging

Universities all over the country are cutting non-revenue sports to save money, and they are also asking boosters to give more money to athletics. What universities aren’t doing is engaging in serious soul searching and then, changing the way they do business.

I know that a newspaper headline isn’t always reflective of the article. However, today’s headline caught my attention. It read: “UNC athletics raising money for COVID-19 revenue losses.” The article described how the state flagship university expects to lose $30 million from lost ticket sales, reduced television revenue, and related pandemic woes. Another newspaper reported that the losses could be as much as $50 million.

To fill the gap, UNC has turned to athletic boosters, asking them to contribute to a new fund, called The Carolina Victory Fund. Bubba Cunningham, the school’s athletic director, asks Rams Club members to make unrestricted gifts to help the university’s 28 varsity sports programs. Unrestricted gifts are administrators’ favorite form of giving. With no strings attached, dollars go into a common pot.

In 2019, UNC had $107.8 million in revenue due to many years of financial growth. Now, that run is over. Coaches and administrators have been furloughed or given salary reductions, and other cost-cutting measures have been imposed.

In 2017, when UNC felt that Tennessee would lure its head football coach away, the school’s board of trustees extended his contract through the 2022 season: The new deal paid the coach “$1.95 million this season, including a base salary of $400,000, and supplemental income totaling $1.55 million. Those amounts increase to $600,000 in base salary and $2.4 million in supplemental income — for a total of $3 million — in each of the final three years of the contract.” His incentive clauses ranged from “$50,000 for a bowl berth to $200,000 for winning a national title.”

In 2018–and after a 2-9 season–the coach’s contract was bought out at a $3 million cost for each of the remaining four years.

The bottom line here isn’t hard to locate. And it can’t be papered over by starting a ‘Victory Fund,’ either. Sloppy, irresponsible management of public monies at a large, state-funded school must stop. And if only the situation applied to one state school in one state. It does not.

Athletic programs are operating like drunk workers who have cashed their paychecks and feel as though they are rich. And the NCAA hasn’t imposed curbs and limits on spending as many pro sports do. Now, caught in a bind, athletics directors ask for (drum roll, please) MORE MONEY!

Let’s face it. Trustees who approve such contracts (like the one given at the UNC football coach) wouldn’t manage their own companies in like manner. And they wouldn’t tolerate reckless managers overseeing their departments.

The stark reality is that schools all over the country are cutting non-revenue sports to save money and, at the same time, asking boosters to give even more money to athletics. But they aren’t engaging in serious soul searching. Perhaps that’s because college sports has lost its soul.

The pandemic has been revealing, often in ways that we had not expected. We should be learning valuable lessons about our beliefs/habits and applying that learning to craft a new business model. But there’s little evidence that’s happening in the realm of collegiate sports administration.

Walking Each Other Home

In the movie Mary Poppins the grand nanny by that name says to her young charges, “Enough’s as good as a feast.”

In Walking Each Other Home, subtitled,  Reflections about Living a Christian Life from an Older Dad to His Daughter, Dr. Peter C. Wilcox takes 108 pages to share the wisdom he has gained over 74 years with his grown, therapist daughter Colleen. He uses literature, personal experience as a therapist, his own life experiences, movies, and more to illustrate his lessons for living a Christian life. He quotes writers as diverse as Robert Coles and Maggie Ross. He offers boundless anecdotes. He goes on and on and on for those mentioned 108 pages.

The advice Wilcox writes is not to be faulted. Section 5 of Walking covers such noble topics of life as living with compassion, being kind, be a good listener, clothing others with respect, and more such good suggestions for living a Christian life. But enough, as Nanny Poppins said, is enough.

Wilcox is honest and thoughtful, but I think a good editing could have helped his too long of a letter to his daughter. Also, I question some of his interpretations. For instance, Wilcox states that Fr. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, the Catholic priest/scientist, ministered to the people of China. That is wrong! Chardin was in China as a renowned scientist who was part of the discovery of the Peking Man. He was not a missionary in China.  Wilcox’s overuse of BraineyQuotes is also irritating since he is only pulling up chosen phrases instead of the entire source. That seems to be cheap scholarship. All of this  add up to good advice being ruined by too many words and misinformation. Such is the case of Walking Each Other Home.

A Name for Herself

The recent election of a woman, a child of immigrant parents from India and Jamaica, demonstrates the possibilities in America. Her parents met in a study group while in college, and Vice-President elect Harris credits her mother’s influence for much of her success.

Strong women had a big part in our country’s development, and as demonstrated by the election of Kamala Harris, they still influence it.

            Kent Van Til tells the story of his grandmother who landed on Ellis Island in 1898. The youngest of the four Recker children, Hermina would become an American along with her family and be eternally known as “Minnie.” Van Til’s story follows her from New York to Chicago to Montana and back to the mid-west. His story is a tribute to the grandmother who told him at age ninety, “Well, I sure haven’t made a name for myself; maybe one of you grandkids will.”

            Minnie’s story is such an American one, and not simply because she became a citizen, but because she, like so many other immigrants to America, pioneered, married, fought in wars, loved, and labored for a life in this great land. Without women such as Minnie and their counterparts, we would not be the country we are today. Immigrants we all are, and while all our names may not be known over the land, all our names ring in its history.

            A Name for Herself is a loving tribute to a woman who was not special in a national way, but so important for her determination, grit, and love for her family and country. Minnie did not complain, even when confronted with the early death of her beloved husband Pete and other griefs of life. Instead of offering excuses, she gave love. Instead of grumbles, she gave effort. Her quiet work is a reason for celebrating her life and all the others like it.

            The only complaint I have is that the book is too long on some information, such as the history explaining why Minnie did not especially like Catholics. I found this type of information became a bit “preachy”, overshadowing the story. However, I recommend A Name for Herself as a good read about a remarkable woman, one of many. Just ask Senator Harris.

The Unnamed Women

The recent election of Senator Kamala Harris to the Vice-Presidency of the United States of America has elicited many remarks about a woman, a black woman, a child of immigrants, being elected to such a position. In her speech last night,  Madam Harris paid tribute to her mother who inspired her, and she applauded the possibilities for young girls made possible by her election.

The list of women mentioned as trailblazers for such a moment is long, and there are too many names to list here. But rest assured that it is a list of female warriors who fought for their rights and the rights of all who would follow them. They are legion.

As I watched and listened to the celebrations yesterday and the two speeches last night, I named names of all the female warriors I could remember. But one name kept returning, and I scanned a bookshelf for In Search for Our Mothers’ Gardens. The 1972 book is the first of non-fiction by Alice Walker, and I was searching in it for a particular poem that Walker introduces by these words: “This poem is not enough, but it is something, for the women who literally covered the holes in our walls with sunflowers.” She then shares her poem titled Women.

They were women then

My mama’s generation

Husky of voice—stout of

Step

With fists as well as

Hands

How they battered down

Doors

And ironed

Starched white

Shirts

How they led

Armies

Headragged generals

Across mined

Fields

Booby-trapped

Ditches

To discover books

Desks

A place for us

How they knew what we

Must know

Without knowing a page

Of it

Themselves.

Madam Harris said in her speech last night that while she is the first female to achieve the Vice-presidency, she will not be the last. The path she and all the other females is lined with the names known, but Walker’s poem reminds us that there were many “Headragged generals” who led their children across fields “To discover books” and to find “A place for us.”

So yes, let the known names be called across the land. Their work and success needs to be recognized and celebrated. However, let the battles of the unnamed be remembered as well. They, too, contributed, and Madam Harris stands on their shoulders.