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E.M. Monroe

"I knew, not from memory, but from hope, that there were other models by which to live." Weems

Month

July 2012

Here’s to the “Fierce Five”

Image
Chang W. Lee/ The New York Times

Congratulations to the U.S. Women’s Gymnastics team for winning gold!!!

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Models Monday: Community Property or On Sharing

So if you’ve been following me for a while, you know that I have a three-year-old son. What you may not know is that I didn’t grow-up with siblings and so having my son has been the first time that I’ve had any sustained time with children. My experience of sending my son to what I call “Play School” has been eye-opening.

For starters, I call it “Play School” instead of “Day Care” or even simply  “School” because we were invested in finding a safe, clean place where my son could play and socialize with other children. My son, Miles, watched Caillou when he was a baby and on that show, they called the school Caillou attended, “Play School,” which I thought was a good name for the things I saw them doing. “Play school” seemed like what I remember of Kindergarten: kid sized everything: tables, chairs, coat rooms; kid stuff going on: singing; circle time; graham crackers; milk; playtime outside; hugs; crafts. Well, my son is a pretty tall kid for three and he is also physically competent; agile, quick, strong. Too, he actually seems physically confident. He doesn’t carry himself awkwardly and though he falls down and has had his fair share of cuts and scrapes, he’s not timid. It’s very hard to ignore what looks like athletic promise. Anyway, when we would look in upon the children who he was supposed to be grouped with, Miles seemed older than they were. Since we had not enrolled him at “Play School” until mid-summer, the administrators thought it best to place him with the teachers he would be with at the start of the school year so that he wouldn’t have to make several adjustments once the school year began. However, upon noting the size of the children my son would be grouped with, my husband asked about Miles staying with the kids he was with and moving on as they did. At first we were told that there would be an assessment and depending on how Miles performed, they would decide if he should advance with the four-year-olds or be placed with the other three-year-olds. I must admit, I thought this rather silly. What exactly would this assessment involve? It’s not like the four-year-olds were using theorems to write geometric proofs or diagramming sentences. My kid needs to learn how to play well with others and we didn’t imagine that the assessment would focus on that, but what was clear to us is that if our physically competent, rather high strung kid got angry like the Hulk, which is how he sometimes describes it, we thought it best that he be with kids who were at least his size. We don’t really know their rationale, but the administrators and the teachers told us one day that they felt that Miles should move up with his four-year-old classmates. Thus, Miles started Pre-K today.

O.K., so here’s what I don’t understand now: Why the emphasis on ownership and personal property for three and four-year-old children? Parents were asked to buy a list of supplies for each of our children that included the following: one 3 ring binder; one box of 24 crayons; one box of 8 washable markers; one pair of blunt tip scissors; one bottle of school glue; two 2 pocket folders; one pack of “big” pencils; one school supply box; one box of wipes. It wouldn’t have bothered me to purchase each of these things as classroom supplies for everyones use, but I don’t understand why my three-year-old needs to have his own crayons, scissors, and glue. When I was a child, a big container of glue or paste was set in the middle of the table and some might be set aside for each individual child on construction paper. The eight children at each table may have been given three or four pairs of scissors to share. Here’s how that worked: one child used the scissors and when they were done, the child without a pair at their disposal was given the available pair. That seemed to work just fine. That method helped me to learn how to share. My son, who already has a very hard time sharing, is being encouraged to claim property. We have been asked to label everything–including the scissors. It makes sense to me that we label the extra-change of clothes and the blanket we are asked to bring for our children. Not only can these items be expensive, but they are particular to your child’s body, your expectations for cleanliness, and may even be designed specifically for your child (for example, when my husband forgot to bring home the blanket that we usually send to school with Miles so that it could be washed, I sent the blanket that a friend crotched for him), but glue and scissors?! Why does my kid need his own pair of scissors? Glue? Crayons? 

My husband had an experience as a high school football coach where players whose dues were not paid in full were prevented from eating the pre-game meal with the team. Those children were forced to sit in one part of the cafeteria while their teammates, whose dues were paid, ate. That story haunts me. It’s hard to imagine how those children who did not have the money felt being forced to watch their teammates eat. According to my husband, those whose dues were paid did not seem at all disturbed that they were eating and their teammates were not. Not a single player shared his plate or refused to eat in protest. Modern day schooling, from what I see now, seems to prepare children to expect these dynamics as a consequence of failing to accept personal responsibility. While I am a proponent of personal responsibility, I don’t think that it has to be solely measured in the harsh, economic terms in which it is set. I want my son to learn that being personally responsible includes recognizing another person’s needs and responding to them with the resources that you have at your disposal. Sometimes those resources are material and sometimes they are not. There is an adorable little girl in Miles’s class who has responded to several of his meltdowns with kindness. She stands out to me as a result of her kindness and my son’s brusqueness in response. We have tried to address this with Miles but it seems as though we’re doing it in a context that doesn’t support our efforts because ultimately, if that child’s parents fail to buy her a pair of scissors, she will be met with the brusqueness that my son gives her.

I also think that accepting personal responsibility means that you show gratitude for the things that other people do for you. My son has a responsibility to show us gratitude for the school uniforms that we purchased, the tuition that we paid, and the supplies that we bought. To that end, as we explained to him, we wrote his name on the items that he will use in school but they actually belong to us and we expect him to share those things with the other children.

I wish that progress and development did not seem to mean laying waste to old ways. While it has been years since I attended compulsory schools, I know that some of their methods worked. As a parent now, I turn to some of those old ways quite often as a model for raising my son and I plan on turning to some of those ways for schooling him as well. At least those methods clearly produced children who became citizens who expected to have to negotiate with other people for resources. Those methods responded to human limitations and the opening they necessarily create for you to turn to another person for assistance. Charity wasn’t constructed as an extreme act of generosity or of need but as a consequence and an expectation of living.

From what my friends tell me, what I have been seeing of contemporary schooling, even Play School, mirrors what they have seen and experienced with their own children. To that end, it is really hard for me to imagine how these new school ways will prepare these children to be cooperative later in life. That you ever get children to work together as teammates in sports, as bandmates in a marching band, or even as collaborators in a group project seems nothing short of miraculous.

Worthwhile Viewing: Chops

I don’t know what I was doing in 2007 but I must have been wasting time because seeing this film, Chops, today put whatever those tasks were to SHAME. I highly recommend setting aside 1:26:55 for viewing Chops in its entirety and at least 30 minutes for running the film back so that you can hear the music again! I watched the film on Netflix so if you have an account, go there to check out Chops (I receive no benefits from endorsing Netflix. I do want to caution you against piecing together the film through clips because it might spoil the storyline that runs through the film. I saw that you can rent the film from Amazon for $2.99 but I haven’t seen where you might see it for free.)

The Verdict on Penn State

I must admit, I expected that the N.C.A.A. would give Penn State’s football program the “death penalty” and thus completely shut it down. While that was not the verdict, the punishment they meted out–the $60 million fine, the four-year bowl ban, the initial scholarships being reduced from 25-15 per year for four years, the vacating of wins from 1998-2011–was fitting given what N.C.A.A. President Mark Emmert claimed as the University’s goal of changing the “athletic culture.” It takes time to enact cultural change, but when the presence of the past remains a part of daily experience it would appear to have some urgency. Such was the rationale for keeping the markers of Jim Crow etched in stone above the “Colored” entrance to the Macon Terminal Station in Macon, Georgia.

As the entrance looks today.
The above images may be found in context by following this link.

This entrance not only stands as a reminder of an ugly past, but it requires a contemporary, present consideration for responding: Who enters through these doors now? How should you respond to this designation today? On what side of history do we place people who continuously complied with this instruction in the past? What do we make of those who stood on the wrong side of history?

Hazel Bryan was forced to answer questions like these after Arkansas Democrat photographer, Will Counts, caught her on film hurling hate speech at Elizabeth Eckford on September 4, 1957. This photographic relic makes the past here so obviously inescapable. I feel great empathy for Elizabeth Eckford because of the loneliness and fear she must have felt. At the same time, I don’t feel superior to Hazel Bryan. I see the ways in which I could have been her–not in hurling racial epithets but certainly in having done ugly things. Fortunately, my moments weren’t caught on film. I remember them, vividly, and they make me cautious about demanding full notice of my spotless, unsoiled character in any given moment.

I remember being in the first-grade with a girl who had a terrible skin condition. Her skin always looked raw and blistery as if she had been recovering from head-t0-toe burns. Her body also had a very distinctive smell. I always assumed that it was her skin condition that caused her body to emit a scent  that reminded me of rotting strawberries. She was not a popular child and was endlessly picked-on. Well one day, she broke. She started sobbing in the middle of class. Sr. Pamela took her into the hall and after that it got scary for all of us. Sr. Pamela came back into that classroom angry. She told us that our classmate was crying because she had been teased. Sr. Pamela told us that she could not believe that students would be so cruel as to tease Bashira for something that she could not help. Sr. Pamela told us that she would ask Bashira to name the people who had teased her and then she would call us out into the hallway, one by one, to apologize to Bashira for our cruelty. And so it began.

Sr. Pamela would crack the door to the classroom open and you could see Bashira standing next to her. Bashira would whisper a name in Sr. Pamela’s ear and then Sr. Pamela would point to a child seated at a desk. The subject of her ice cold stare and crooked finger would usually point to themselves as if to say, “who me?” and Sr. Pamela would silently demand that that child come into the hallway. Once they reached her, the door would close. The ritual repeated for what seemed like hours until there were only two of us left, me and my best friend Jennifer. I remember being terrified of having Sr. Pamela crook her finger and beckon me to her. I couldn’t imagine facing the shame of having to face what I had done. I only had to imagine it, however, because the ritual finally ended with Jennifer and I. We had not been named. I couldn’t believe that I had not been called. I could believe that Jennifer had not been involved in the teasing but I really could not believe that about myself; not about my six-year-old self. Kindness, especially the courage to be kind, was something I remember having to learn and I remember the Bashira Moment as being just the kind of event that provided me with an education. I was a kid who wanted to be liked and I remember feeling vulnerable and willing to go along with whatever scheme necessary to win friends. I don’t know why Bashira didn’t name me as one of her taunters. It may not have been the case that I teased her outright–I don’t remember doing that–but I’m sure I was a part of the crowd when they did; I had to be. My definition of innocence was far stricter than hers. I would have named me had I been Bashira. I would have named me as someone who supported that violence by not doing anything to stop it. I did not feel innocent–in fact, I still don’t–and even though Sr. Pamela didn’t punish me, I know I punished myself. I felt guilty and I went right along with my classmates in paying my penance to Bashira.

When I read the statement from the Penn State Football Letterman’s Club, I thought about Bashira and my experience of that moment. My own experience caused me to wonder why Tim Sweeney and Justin Kurpeikis as President and Vice President would feel it appropriate to claim their pride as members of their club at this moment. Why issue such a statement as it seems to go against the very noble goal of changing the “athletic culture” as it exists by declaring themselves already good enough for having done it the “right way?” A mark of their commitment to learning would best be expressed through humility, not pride. St. Augustine greatly informs my own thoughts on the matter when he cautions against pride in one’s intellectual achievements when in the Confessions he writes that he “only wanted to be a learned man, which could only mean [he] wanted to be better than [he] was.” At this hour, being a good student-athlete and standing united with the Penn State community would be best conveyed through a willingness to accept the N.C.A.A. sanctions and to become invested in ways to learn how to be better than you were.

I was also troubled to read the pledge from at least thirty Penn State players about their commitment to Penn State. It’s not troubling to me that these players would stay and play, what is troubling is their defiant attitude as expressed in Michael Mauti’s claim that “No sanction, no politician is ever going to to take away what we’ve got here.” Why are these players so committed to constructing themselves as besieged? Do they really feel attacked or is this like the awww man performance of players who appear to think they are required to appear disgruntled when a referee throws a flag? Why isn’t it possible that the sanctions are designed to assist in dismantling a faulty system and to aid in the redesign of a better one?

A better statement from these student-athletes would have been for them to simply show up, as Mauti claims they will, and just practice and play. As we know from the photograph of Hazel Bryan, as just one example, it is possible to end up on the wrong side of history. It seems to me that the more these young men issue statements, the more likely it will be that they find themselves there–and we’ll see it.

Models Monday: Taking Another Look at What You Have

I don’t know when it happened, but it’s been several months since I decided to like the material things in my life. I decided that I wasn’t going to look past them to those better things that existed after I washed that dress and it began to fade or even longed for the things that I didn’t purchase as I hung up or folded the things I did bring home; I decided that I was going to place those new throw pillows on the couch and like them just fine and not think about how much better they would look with a new rug to complement them; I decided that I was going to like my house, decorate it with meaningful things, consider new paint colors, in other words, consider ways of enhancing my house, but I was not going to pine for a bigger, more expensive one. I decided that all the things that I owned were just fine and when I did, I got an unexpected surprise: Peace. When I stopped thinking about and focusing on the suspected shabbiness of the ordinary things in my life and started focusing on all that was right, I no longer felt anxious or breathless from striving. Peace settled in as my old things gleamed with new potential–or just as they were. I’m telling you, when I decided to take another look at what I had, it brought new wealth and everyday I try to increase my bounty as I take another look at everything around me.

Last summer I bought a sundress that I thought was nice. It was inexpensive and easy to care for, which added to its value. During the fall, I noticed spots on the dress that appeared to be bleach stains. At first I was really disappointed because my immediate thought was that I would have to get rid of the dress. I didn’t dispose of the dress right away though because I liked it very much and was frustrated that I hadn’t taken better care of it. Thus, I didn’t want to throw it out and I would never donate something that I think is in poor condition so I just let it hang in my closet for a while. Fortunately, my dress dilemma intersected with my decision to want the things that existed in my life. In an effort to recast my damaged dress for a second life, I turned to the people in my life for guidance who seemed to best know how to do this–my ancestors, as they were not pining women.

When I turned to those women whose memory I value and thought about what they would have done with that dress, I immediately thought of the dress as having use value. My beloved neighbor Betty would have worn that dress. She would have had it on as she gardened and as she went to water her lawn. Thinking about her this way made me think about how I imagined myself and thought about the activities that I engage in. Discounting the dress’s value with the stains reflects a life with pristine qualities that my daily life does not typically involve. Most days, I am not attending tea parties or going to formal ceremonies, giving public speeches or meeting executives for lunch. Like Betty, most days, I can be seen working around my house so there is no reason for me not to wear that dress to conduct the daily affairs around my home. Then I thought about my grandmother. My grandmother wouldn’t have worn the dress. I never saw her in a sundress, but I don’t think she would have merely disposed of the dress either–she would have used it, even if she cut it up and turned it into rags. Too, she wouldn’t have thought anything of it if she saw me wearing the dress around the house. Thus, I kept the dress.

At first, I thought I would only wear it around the house, but yesterday that changed. I wore the dress out to have pizza at a local pizzeria we love and then to the park where we took our son to play. It never even occurred to me to change clothes to leave the house. The places we visited were extensions of how I define being at home and if I felt I was going to be shunned or refused service on account of the bleach stains on my dress, I can’t see that I would be frequenting those places. It felt good not having to fret over what folk thought of how I looked.

What peace does for you is that it gives you the ability to enhance your life by giving you a restful mind and the stillness to approach your affairs with your full, focused attention. Peace pushes aside anxiety and makes room for creativity to flourish. With the constant striving for the endless supply of new and shiny things to replace the never-ending list of old ones replaced with contentment, you can actual experience the relief necessary to jump up and down and celebrate, or in other words, to know joy. Taking another look at the things in my life has been good for me.

Nourishment

Writer Toni Morrison

A friend sent me a link to an interview with Toni Morrison where she offers a critique of the offerings currently found in American popular culture. Her sentiments aptly capture its limitations:

“I really want some meaning. It used to be easy to toss it off. Now it’s harder and harder. You have to navigate just to find something that has nourishment. It’s the absence of nourishment. What do you do in place of nourishment? It’s usually junk. Either it’s junk food or junk clothes or junk ideas.”

Since reading this interview, particularly the above remarks, I have realized that the work of memory serves as a source of nourishment for me. I scan my memory for moments of rich and engaging conversation, carefully planned meals, evidence of deliberate living in order to recall the possibilities of fulfillment. Those memories are what help to convince me that there are other models to supply us with nourishment despite the seemingly pervasive cultural famine of our times.

RIP: Billie Holiday 1915-1959

On this day, July 17, in 1959 Billie Holiday passed away. In tribute, I have provided links to a few sources that would make for interesting consultation.

NPR ran an interesting piece on Billie Holiday’s final resting place.

bio.TRUE STORY has a nice mini-bio film about Holiday at their site.

Between these two sources, two scholars appear whose work on Holiday I have found quite edifying: NPR features commentary from Farah Jasmine Griffin, author of If You Can’t Be Free, Be a Mystery: In Search of Billie Holiday; the mini-bio film features commentary from Robert O’Meally, author of Lady Day: The Many Faces of Billie Holiday.

NPR’s Jazz Profile on Holiday, “Billie Holiday: Lady Sings the Blues,” makes for good listening. Check it out if you can.

Models Monday: Responses to People Who Don’t Like You

Jacques-Louis David, The Death of Socrates, 1787

When I was in grade school I told my mother that a teacher did not like me. “So,” my mother responded. “Not everyone’s going to.” Later I learned that my mother was at least concerned that I wasn’t being mistreated when she told me of her conference with this very teacher upon collecting my report card. My mother inquired about my concerns after the teacher offered me glowing praise. “Your teacher likes you,” my mother said. “That woman told me that she often gives attention to children who are misbehaving because their actions demand it, which means that she, unfortunately, doesn’t always pay adequate attention to those who are doing what they are supposed to be doing.” “Oh,” is all I could muster in reply. “See,” she said. “I sure am glad that I didn’t go in there accusing that woman of the crime of disliking you.” My mother was quite annoyed by my raising this issue with her.

Whether or not my teacher liked me became an important moment in my maturation because it made me aware of popularity as something that I would need to pay attention to. It became an issue that I would continue thinking about in order to determine why it would or should concern me.

According to Alain de Botton, popularity is an ancient concern. In Part I of The Consolations of Philosophy, specifically the first chapter on “Popularity,” de Botton reflects on Socrates’ decision to defy the popular voices that had accused him of “failing to worship the city’s gods, introducing religious novelties and corrupting the young men of Athens.” Socrates chose to continue pursuing his calling, contending that “an unexamined life is not worth living” and understanding that the consequence of his choice was death. de Button thinks that evidence of the significance of Socrates’s death may be marked in its repeated appearance in paintings. The nobility and courage found in Socrates’ choice certainly makes a compelling subject. It underscores the dignity, integrity, joy, and abundance some find in pursuing an intellectual life. His costly choice dramatically indicates the value that otherwise reads as a privileged fancy. That he would have to die for rejecting the crowd also illustrates the seriousness of neglecting the significance of popularity as a meaningful consideration. Perhaps my mother’s silent worry about my popularity with my teacher concerned violent consequences, as I recall my own childish concerns, they were only about popularity as an idea in my teacher’s head. I wanted the idea of myself in her head to match the one that I held of myself. Now I understand this to be a child’s concern as adults are less worried about ideas, attitudes, and opinions that they cannot control and are not responsible for as figments in someone else’s head than they are the consequences of those ideas, attitudes, and opinions.

Indeed, there are consequences for being unpopular, but you get to decide how you will face them, and even how much those consequences matter to you. So one of the tasks involved in facing this issue of popularity is to separate the emotional component from the intellectual component so that you can decide how you want to move forward with the realization that you are not popular. This step might be enough to convince you that you might not even care whether or not you’re popular with someone or some group of people. This happened to me when I decided it took too much time and effort to befriend my husband’s colleagues. Once I made that decision, it meant that I stopped trying to make small talk about matters that I found of no interest; it meant that I did not go to social events where we were invited as a couple or even when I was invited alone to fete them at baby showers or engagement parties. I knew there would be a penalty and I decided that I didn’t mind paying it. At first, my husband was uncomfortable with my decision–especially when he felt that he had to cover my feelings for his colleagues with a lie. After we talked about it, I told him that he didn’t have to lie. I was perfectly fine with him telling his colleagues the truth: I did not like them. Now of course, he didn’t have to be so direct he could have made excuses, which he did for a while but eventually he had to be direct because these people were invested in sowing dissension. He felt that he always needed to explain my absence or defend me after they made some snide remark about my seeming lack of involvement in his life. (This has the potential to bother me even as I write about it now. Who were his co-workers to think they had some right to make a claim about me and my involvement in my husband’s life based on their invitations. It was all absurd as far as I was concerned.) I certainly thought about my husband’s feelings regarding this matter and it points to an important aspect of this issue: whatever decisions you make concerning your feelings about popularity, they will impact other people. You will have to think about how to negotiate the matter of collateral damage. I’m not sure how Socrates’s wife and his three sons responded to his decision to answer his calling but I know that the needs of my own family certainly inform my zeal about most things.

You might decide that my mother’s response to whether or not someone likes you should be yours as well: “So,” she said. “Not everyone’s going to.” You might just decide that one person’s dislike for you or even a group of peoples’ dislike does not deserve a special news bulletin–especially when you understand that people can dislike you and still be fair or not seek to do you harm. I’ve recognized in my own life that there are times when I acknowledge not liking someone as a way of taking measure of my own views. Thus, I claim the feelings so that I might work out what I am claiming to value. Currently, I have neighbors who I do not like. I don’t like that they have two pit bulls who routinely slip out of the gate; I don’t like that the dogs bark all night; I don’t like that my neighbors don’t keep their grass cut; I don’t like that they sometimes tie their dogs to a sapling that sits between our yards; I don’t like how loud they play their music. I could continue with this chronicle but the point is that by listing even these dislikes I am at the same time highlighting my views of neighborliness and what I think it means to live in a community with other people. It reveals the compromises that I think need to be made regarding your own particular tastes when others are involved. My dislikes further reveal the importance that I place on considering the safety of those around me and not just my own. Thus, when popularity becomes an intellectual matter and not just an emotional one, it can illuminate things that you value and find meaningful; it doesn’t have to involve harm as a consequence. I don’t plan on harming my neighbors nor do I want harm to befall them. We loan them things when they ask and I even bought nearly $50 worth of gourmet cookie dough from their daughter who was selling it as a part of a school fundraiser. We’re still cooperative despite my negative appraisal. I wouldn’t mind if my neighbors moved and because I know why I don’t like them, I have a better sense of who I would like to move-in instead.

Like and love are not the same thing. I would imagine that most religions tell you to love your neighbors but I don’t imagine there being a command to like them. I always appreciated the moment in Rocky IV after Rocky beats Drago and he tells the Russian audience in attendance at the fight that there was a time when they didn’t like him and that he guesses that “I didn’t like you much none either.” When I was a child, such a response to being disliked was one I had not considered; now, it’s one of my earliest considerations: do I like them? Despite how you answer this question, the possibility of working well with them does not depend on mutual affection; that just makes it easier.

Despite my mother’s irritation, I greatly benefited from her initial reaction and her concluding one. Even though I’ve grown-up and have thankfully learned some valuable lessons about popularity, the terms of social media oversimplify the matter. I can’t ignore the fact that you can “Like” this post by clicking the very button this site makes available–I’ll have to think a little more about that one.

Reading with my Father: Slim’s Table Interlude (on Penn State)

In light of former federal judge and director of the F.B.I. Louis J. Freeh’s investigation into the Penn State scandal and the release of the findings, I decided to re-post my thoughts on the matter. I’ll be curious to read your reaction to my piece given these findings.

Maybe Mitch Duneier’s description of Bart’s death and its aftermath has influenced my current interest in the Beatles’ song “Eleanor Rigby.”

Bart photographed by Ovie Carter in Mitchell Duneier’s Slim’s Table: Race, Respectability, and Masculinity

Bart dies alone and stays in the morgue for three weeks. Duneier makes the point that Bart wasn’t completely removed from belonging to community because the men at Valois mourned him. In fact, they were the ones who first detected that something was wrong and then alerted his brother who refused to act on this knowledge. So for Duneier, Bart was no Eleanor Rigby.

In the song, Eleanor Rigby goes completely unmourned.

No one knows her or cares enough about her to even call a brother who will not answer.

The Beatles’ song asks us to consider where lonely people belong. There are lots of stories that could be told in answer to that question, and I think that some of those stories need to involve people who should be excluded from belonging. I was reading an advice column where a woman said that her uncle molested her when she was a child. Now that he is old and she’s the only family member who can take care of him, she’s concerned about her obligations to him. The advice was to honor her knowledge of her uncle’s abuse and let him find alternative care. I agreed with this advice: Some people are outside of community for good reason…Jerry Sandusky should be one of those people.

Sandusky’s crimes against boys while he was a coach at Penn State should bar him from community. His perversion does not fit him for the benefit of participating in civil society. I was saddened to learn that lawyers representing the victims have speculated about possible feelings of betrayal from the victims because the Board of Trustees fired Joe Paterno, the head coach at Penn State. The belief is that the students rioting in protest of Paterno’s forced departure would bear upon the victims. I hope that someone convinces them that the Board’s decision was a good one. Paterno had not done enough to stop this abuse in his team’s name. He should have had Sandusky barred from Penn State football facilities when he learned of his actions and provided reasons for his decision to the public. The students at Penn State are engaged in a dishonorable protest.

Mike McQueary, the wide receivers coach, had been a graduate assistant when he witnessed Sandusky abusing a boy in a locker room shower. He made his witness meaningful when he told his father who then encouraged him to tell Coach Paterno. Paterno then told the Athletic Director and that’s where the reporting meaningfully ends; it all remains internal and no one calls the police. McQueary had been tapped to take over as head coach during Saturday’s game against Nebraska but due to death threats against him, the Board has decided it’s best for him to not coach.

It’s not clear whether the death threats McQueary has received are due to his failure to personally interrupt Sandusky or if they are a result of him being seen as a whistleblower and thus Paterno’s betrayer…it’s all so violent. I do have sympathy for the humanity of McQueary’s failing, if that’s even the right word. He didn’t show the heroism that we might have wanted; the heroism of Hollywood that would have shown him stopping the coach, his supervisor and much older man, from committing a horrifying act. Life though, doesn’t always unfold just so. I see McQueary as horrified and powerless in his initial encounter. His initial weakness gets redeemed though because he told someone. I see his actions as admitting a truth about our abilities as human beings: sometimes our best, in the worst moments, isn’t quite good enough.

My father would have been saddened to learn of the abuse these boys endured. He would have had no problem with the Board of Trustees firing Paterno, and he would have wanted to see Jerry Sandusky become a very lonely man.

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