Thursday, April 27, 2006

Jim Leach: Rush Limbaugh or Tyrone Shoelaces

I’ve been thinking about Jim Leach lately. Not in a way that should cause him to seek protection. Rather, in an I-still-think-I’m-in-grad-school-writing-communication-papers sort of way. So feel free to grade this post. I apologize for the length. Academia seems to breed long-windedness. At least it did in me.

Leach, as most of you know, is a talk radio host. And he’s a good one. I say this not as someone who is in lockstep with every opinion he puts forth, but as someone who recognizes what a good talk radio host is supposed to do. The job requires that the host be well informed, passionate, and have the ability to incite his listeners. If Leach's callers agree with him, he gives them a nice “ka-ching” to register his approval. If they disagree, the show becomes more entertaining. Talk radio is based on the notion that many people would rather hear a raucous din than a well-harmonized choir.

Leach operates by-and-large from the left. This means that he is more than willing to not only criticize the right, but also to ridicule and debase. He’s especially hard on the president and his administration. And that’s fine. He certainly has plenty of ammunition with which to work. Even if you don’t agree with Leach politically, you should recognize that it’s good to have someone to help balance out the conservative lean on talk radio.

There is, however, a rub.

Leach wears many hats at WMAY, in addition to his talk radio sombrero. He’s the news director, a reporter, and, when he’s reading those extended testimonials for one of the station’s sponsors, a celebrity endorser. But since this is radio, we can’t see what hat he is wearing when we hear his voice coming over the airwaves. This leads to some perception problems.

Let me say right here that in all of the years I’ve listened to Leach read the news, I don’t recall a single instance of a story being slanted towards a particular viewpoint. Therefore, I trust him as a reporter. But I can see how his many roles, especially that of opinionated talk show host, would cause some people to question his objectivity when delivering the news.

This is a problem because WMAY wants to be a trusted news source to the entire community. However, when the guy who bashed Republicans all morning goes on to report on a scandal involving Republicans that afternoon, some people will question if the story is airing because it is newsworthy, or simply because it delights the reporter/host. You can dismiss those with such concerns as wingnuts or suggest that they verify the validity of the story with other news sources, but that doesn’t serve the station well from either a journalism or business standpoint.

This doesn’t come down to Leach being a liberal or a Democrat. It’s that we know so much, and in no uncertain terms, about where he stands on the issues. Even when he strays from the party line, as he does against the position that capital punishment should be illegal except in the case of Wal-Mart, it is still problematic when stories on those subjects are in the news. This is why NBC would have never let Tom Brokaw moonlight as a talk radio host or endorse products, and one of the many reasons they wouldn’t have hired Rush Limbaugh to take Brokaw’s place in the anchor chair. Perception matters and the less we know about a journalist’s personal politics, the more we are going to pay attention to the story and not the person delivering it. Consider this: If NBC had hired conservative Mary Matalin to read the news, but secretly insisted that she only read stories written by her liberal husband James Carville, is there any doubt that NBC would still be accused of being a mouthpiece of the White House, despite the words actually coming out of Matalin’s mouth.

Of course NBC has an advantage over a mid-market radio station in that their reporters can just stick to reporting. Since in Leach WMAY has a guy who is qualified to be a reporter and is skilled at being a talk radio host, it makes economic sense for him to do both, and also, on occasion, read some ad copy, spin some records*, do everything but sell popcorn at halftime (even Tyrone Shoelaces didn’t do that.) Yet there is a downside, one that was apparent when Leach recently interviewed gubernatorial candidate, Judy Barr Topinka.

During the interview, Leach asked Topinka if she thought the president was taking the country in the right direction. Topinka proceeded to hem and haw all over the place and never gave a straight answer, despite Leach repeating the question two more times.** It certainly wasn’t Topinka’s finest moment, but it also drew criticism towards Leach. Some commenters on his blog and on Rich Miller’s blog felt that it was a partisan attempt to embarrass Topinka and that it did a disservice to voters. I don’t agree, but I can see how they might think that.

If it was Jim Leach the reporter asking the question, it’s a legitimate one. The Bush administration is backing Topinka’s campaign and voters have the right to know if she is aligned with the president’s vision for the country, of which Illinois is a part. However, if it was Leach the talk show host asking, then it can certainly be perceived as a brush back from a southpaw, meant to force Topinka into either revealing herself as a turncoat to her party’s leadership, or painting herself with the same evil-red tint that stains Bush. If you’re inclined to believe the latter, then it’s easy to misinterpret the relevance of that question.

As it turns out, the question didn’t result in anything worthwhile to the listener/voter. It did confirm that Topinka is a politician and as such will breakout into a clumsy tap dance when confronted with a question that she is unprepared or disinclined to answer. To be sure, that isn’t an admirable quality, but since it doesn’t differentiate her from her opponent or the majority of other politicians out there, it’s certainly nothing to hang your chad on.***

In the age of the Internet, it’s impossible for a reporter to keep all of her personal views from being revealed publicly. Even if a reporter has no opinions, a blogger will make them up and then use them to discredit her. But with Leach, there’s no need for exposing because he lets it all hang out. That makes objectivity an issue for him. Both in his ability to achieve it - which again, I think he does. And the listener’s ability to perceive it – which may not always be the case.

*Even though Jim Leach the blogger wears his love of ELO on his sleeve, he demonstrates his impartiality by not turning his Saturday night sessions on WNNS into Jeff Lynne lovefests.

**You can go to Leach’s blog to read about it in detail.

***Editor’s note: this isn’t a tired joke, but rather, a clever play on words that conjures up nostalgia for a time when an election could turn on the silliest of matters. Unlike the present day.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Goodwill Hunting*

What’s that old adage? There’s no such thing as bad publicity? I’m not so sure that the proprietors of Best Value Recycling store will find that much good comes from their grand opening announcement that received front page, above-the-fold billing in today’s SJ-R. It wasn’t the typical Chamber of Commerce christening with the red ribbon and eager business folks posing with over-sized scissors.

To summarize the story: two former Goodwill administrators, fresh from resigning in disgrace, have started a new concern with a business model remarkably similar to that of their venerable, not-for-profit former employer. Only they’ve added a little twist, one that has them keeping the proceeds from donated items that they resell, rather than going through all that bureaucratic hassle of distributing it to the needy.

I’m actually glad that this was exposed as a bad idea. I’ve been planning a 5K Run/Chilli Cook-off/Candlelight Vigil to raise donations for a new car I’ve had my eye on. In retrospect, I suppose that people probably wouldn’t be keen on soliciting pledges to benefit a cure to the malaise that my decrepit “ride” is causing me. I’ll just turn to plan “B” and start hanging out in front of Schnuck’s with a kettle and a bell.

I’ve always enjoyed engaging in a little armchair PR consulting, and this Best Value Recycling story is ripe for second-guessing.

The “no comment” approach they took with the press never looks good. They had to have known, given their checkered relationship with Goodwill and the nature of their business, that eventually reporters would be calling. So the savvy thing to do would have been to formulate a position beforehand, one that doesn’t make their new enterprise come across as a tribute to greed and malice. For the life of me I can’t figure out what that position would be, but then again, I’m no Rebecca Rausch. I’m sure there are political hacks out there who could have advised them how to spin this thing to their advantage.

The owners do seem to be aware that the public might look askew at their scheme. They’ve positioned Best Value as pro-environment recyclers, as if they aren’t really targeting the demographic that normally donates to Goodwill, but rather to those who choose to throw unwanted items in the trash. I suppose they are after that niche market of fly-dumpers who create blights upon the cityscape. So if you need a threadbare sofa pocked with cigarette burns or a Kroger-era shopping cart, Best Value Recycling is your eco-friendly alternative.

Opening their business in proximity to their old stomping grounds wasn’t the best tack to take either, not if they didn’t want to be perceived as sticking it to their previous employer. They may have not deliberately chosen a location near Goodwill, but it appears that way and the newspaper sure didn’t miss that angle.

The real estate agent who is leasing the property to Best Value came across okay in the article. You can’t blame him for signing an agreement with a legitimate, if questionably conceived, business. He also didn’t clam-up in the face of scrutiny, although he might have toned it down a bit. His declaration of admiration for Goodwill was a little over-the-top and I’m sure if you got a couple of drinks in him he’d say the same thing about the Salvation Army.

Although Goodwill got to play the role of the do-gooder-done-wrong in this story, they don’t come out of it completely unscathed. The article reminded readers that local directors of this altruistic organization draw six-figure salaries, so there is some profiting going on. Sam Madonia used this point to talk-up the Saint Martin De Porres Center, an organization that doesn’t charge for the goods they collect and is run completely by volunteers. Given the choice, I’d rather conduct my charitable doings with someone doing the Lord’s work than with someone who has to worry about the alternative minimum tax.

As for Best Value, they are certainly within their rights to carry on in a resale racket that disguises itself as an alternative to a not-for-profit organization. If they want to also mass produce some cookies, give them cutesy names, and have the parents of pre-pubescent girls sell them at the office, they can do that too. I have a feeling, however, that they won’t be in business for very long and that the Girl Scout’s will keep the cookies-for-a-cause market cornered for some time to come. But if you see a bell ringer in front of your favorite grocery store in the coming weeks, be sure to give generously. You'll make a real difference in a poor blogger's life.

*I know this is too obvious, but coming up with headlines is harder than it looks.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

All that blue is is one more colour . . .now

Under normal conditions, events such as the George Ryan guilty verdict and the new District 186 school board president’s bumbling performance on the Jim Leach Show would inspire a blog post or two. Conditions, tragically, haven’t been favorable for blogging. In the last week, I’ve been to two separate wakes for people who died way too soon. Both suffered a great deal before finally succumbing to their illnesses. Both had so much more yet to offer. I want to say that it isn’t fair, because it isn’t. But you can’t reason away the pain that their passing has caused to so many.

So I’m going to turn the rest of this post over to Sarah Polley and her achingly beautiful rendition of the Jane Siberry song, "One More Colour." In remembrance of Amy and Mike.

"is it lasting?" and in asking
the sphere becomes a line
a dotted line, and to follow it
you must make a jump each time

a dotted page
a dotted hillside
a blast of dots
a blind reader
a flock of sheep
a blast of trumpet shots

here --- all we have here is sky
all the sky is is blue
all that blue is is one more colour now

a basket of apples by the back door
beneath the sweater pegs
the autumn leaves lift along the street
a pair of dancing legs

same as the vendor
who likes to sing as loudly as he can
and all he says is, it suits me fine
that's the way i am

here --- all we have here is sky
all the sky is is blue
all that blue is is one more colour now

i've seen this THING you won't believe
why it's big
bigger than the biggest tress
high as the mountains
wide as the widest skies
and that's both sides
well --- at least as big as me...

speak a little softer
work a little louder
shoot less with more care
sing a little sweeter
and love a little longer
and soon you will be there

here --- all we have here is sky
all the sky is is blue
all that blue is is one more colour now

these are some reasons
and same as the seasons
they hold and then they fly
the goatless ledge
'neath the honkless geese
in the speckless sky
the speckless sky

i hear you...

Friday, April 14, 2006

From the Treadmill: The Squid and the Whale

As every parent knows, there are a countless number of books offering advice on how best to raise our children. The books run the gambit from the so-obvious-I-demand-my-money-back, to the utterly ridiculous. Towards the latter end of this range are books whose theses are that children should be treated as miniature adults. Baby talk is eschewed, organic dishes are favored, and parent/child differences are settled through impartial deliberation. But most importantly, children are taught to respect their parents. This doesn’t come in the form of obedience, that would be oppressive, but rather in recognizing the importance of respecting what mommy and daddy are feeling. Like a friend would, or a therapist. The obvious downside to this egalitarian approach to the child enhancing is in full, graphic display in this week’s movie review: The Squid and the Whale.

Bernard Berkman (Jeff Daniels)** is a college professor who has grown bitter about the fading acclaim from his past literary achievements. Joan (Laura Linney) is his second or third wife, depending on how you define a marriage, and is just starting to receive attention for her writing, a situation that further exasperates Bernard’s wounded psyche and leads to their estrangement early in the film.

The fruit of their tumultuous relationship and intense self-involvement are two sons: Walt (Jesse Eisenberg)*** age 16 and Frank (Owen Kline) age 12. Both emulate their parents by both suppressing their emotions and striking out in an almost vicious verbal manner. The emotional turmoil that arrests the boys' development is the centerpiece of the film. And we know how they get that way.

Bernard and Joan treat their boys as adults, and I suspect they always have. They don’t employ this method of child rearing because they believe it is a more respectful to their children or because it will better prepare them for the world that awaits them. Rather, they do it because it is easier to just go on being their selfish selves than it is to take on the roles of responsible parents. That they place their own needs above the needs of their children is best evidenced in the living arrangements they put in place after they separate. The parents alternate custody on a day-by-day basis, the result being that the kids never return after school to the same house they left that morning.

There are other disturbing instances that result from this open form of parenting. Joan feels guilty for not being more honest with her sons about her sexual affairs after Walt finds out that she slept with the father of one of his friends. She promises to be more forthcoming in the future. When Walt finds his first love, his father advises him to the play the field lest he be disappointed later in life when he looks back on a rather limited slate of sexual conquests.

The parents are largely oblivious to the damaged adolescents they’ve created, especially Bernard. When Frank is caught committing a rather disturbing and unusual act of a sexual nature in school, Bernard asks the administrator if some other students might be involved, as if it could be written off as just some crazy fad the kids have gotten into.

In Roger Ebert’s review of this film, he talks about how wonderful it would be to be raised by two serious writers in a house where Dickens is a common topic of dinner conversation. At the point in their life when we meet the two sons, it surely could be enriching. But Ebert fails to realize that kids often have less scholarly interests, ones that Bernard would never deign to take interest in. We can see the effects of these deep-minded discussions on brains still better suited for less mature matter. Walt appropriates by rote his father’s condescending criticism of books without ever having read them. Young Frank adopts the infamous lifestyle of the writer by drinking and swearing to excess, behavior that his parents don’t notice (the drinking) or don’t find unsuitable (intense verbal assaults of the bluest kind.)

At this point I should say that I really did enjoy this movie. It tells an interesting story and it is extremely well written and acted. While the parents certainly weren’t honorable, it was enjoyable observing them in a way that a sociologist might. It was even quite funny. Bernard’s McEnroe-like tantrums while competing with Frank at ping pong were especially entertaining.

There was one minor plot point that bothered me. Walt plays for his parents a song that he wrote. “Hey you,” he sings, “don’t tell me there’s no hope at all.” Later, he wins first prize in the school talent show with his original composition. Eventually, someone discovers that he cribbed the song from that obscure art-rock band, Pink Floyd. I can believe that “The Wall” didn’t make its way into his parent’s record collections and so they fell for Walt’s deception. But in an entire assembly of high school students, no one stood and yelled “fraud”?

That’s just a minor quibble, however. I do recommend this film, although those of you who prefer more staid slices of life in your evening’s entertainment might find it a bit disturbing. It is definitely worthy of repeat viewings, so maybe it will make its way to the treadmill soon.

*Full disclosure: this movie was reviewed from a sofa and not from the treadmill (aka elliptical trainer.) My wife bought me season two of Arrested Development on DVD so I’m currently spending my thrice weekly cardio workouts with the Bluth family.

**Reviews for Daniels’ performance were almost unanimous in their praise, except for the SJ-R’s Nick Rogers who described it as “one note.” You decide.

***Eisenbath turns in another fine performance. He was great in the film Roger Dodger. If you have the means, I highly recommend that you check it out.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

We don't need another hero

The professor of an online class I took in grad school kicked off the first week's discussion by asking a simple question: “What is art?” A lively and somewhat contentious flurry of text messages ensued.

For the most part, the class believed that art is the production of music, painting, writing, acting and all of the other forms that we traditionally think of as art. To engage in these acts, the consensus went, was to create art.

I was of the minority, a group that included the professor and perhaps one other student, who had certain expectations of what was being created before we would call it art. To say that someone blowing into a trumpet for the first time is creating art, I insisted, was a slap in the face to the works of Miles Davis. Art requires dedication, proficiency, and perhaps even suffering. It requires expression and transcendence, not just mechanical manipulation. To say otherwise is to put Picasso on the same level with Thomas Kinkade - Painter of Light. Nobody wants that.

We held fast to our ideals, we idealists, and although I still think we were correct, had the proceeding been a judged debate we would have lost. The reason the majority ruled on this issue is that they were able to provide a definition of art ( essentially anything that resembles art) while the minority opinion was limited to old “I know it when I see it” * bromide. This is hardly the type of Socratic reasoning that wins one a laurel crown.

I thought of this after reading the comments on last week’s post where I questioned the heroism of public works employees during the aftermath recent tornadoes.

(As an aside, let me say that this blog gets some of the most intelligent commenters in the entire blogosphere. There may be only five or six of them, but what they lack in number, they more than make up for in IQ. I know many bloggers who have to suffer illiterate insults from dolts who seem to be only distantly familiar with the concept of logic. Here at BFS, on the other hand, we are treated to the opinions of insightful and often witty commenters who express themselves clearly and pay the proper respect to the rules of the written language. And they tolerate my sometimes insufferable ramblings. I know I don’t say it enough, but I appreciate your input in my little venture.)

Back to heroism. If you don’t follow the comments (you should), it was generally agreed upon that while the linemen and road crews put forth a praise-worthy performance under trying conditions, they were also just doing their jobs as they agreed to do, AND, were compensated handsomely for it.

Yet there are citizens who would disagree with our impassive assessment. Those people who trembled in the dark, fearful that a freezer-full of beef was in peril as its body temperature slowly dropped, would likely have no problem hailing the public workers as heroes.

All of which leads me to conclude that heroism, like art, is clearly in the eye of the beholder. Yes there are those cases when someone will run into a burning house and rescue a baby, there’s little debate to be had there. But more common are instances when someone does a good deed that just happens to have a profound emotional impact on the beneficiary of that act. For instance, when a police officer assists a stranded motorist or the number eight hitter in the lineup hits a walk-off homerun. Heroes? Not to me, unless I was the one stranded or I had a large chunk of money riding on the game.

While identifying heroism is often a subjective matter, it’s clear that it is something that almost everyone aspires to, at least in their fantasies. Who among us hasn’t daydreamed of freeing the damsel tied to the railroad tracks split seconds before the speeding locomotive passes by? Who hasn’t envisioned themselves bravely disarming the dastardly assassin just as he raised his revolver towards the much-beloved leader? And who hasn’t, while deep in reverie, rode in on a white horse and rescued Angelina Jolie from the evil paparazzi, earning her eternal favor and inadvertently trampling Brad Pitt during the getaway? **

We all aspire to true acts of heroism, but seldom are we offered the opportunity. And if we are, we might not be up to the challenge. Which may not be a bad thing.

This week’s assignment, dear commenters, is to contemplate the following scenario and explain how you would react (or at least, how you would like to react.) This applies mainly to parents, but anybody who has people who depend on them can play along.

You’re standing in line inside of McDonald’s. A young punk enters and begins yelling at the girl behind the counter. It quickly becomes clear that he is a boyfriend spurned and that he is there with bad intentions. He produces a weapon and brandishes it at the girl.

Now, were this a daydream, you would deliver a karate chop to his shoulder, an uppercut to his solar plexus, and then calmly step over his unconscious body to place your order. But this is reality. If you intercede too forcefully, the punk may decide to use his first bullet to dispatch with you.

So this is the question: Is it heroic (or smart, or responsible) to risk your life in this scenario? Is the call to save a complete stranger more noble than providing for your own safety and sparing your children the heartbreak of losing a parent?***


*This is the same type of insufficient reasoning that upends many people’s arguments as to what is a “sport” and what isn’t. They want to say that football is and figure skating isn’t, but their determinations aren’t based on set criteria, just personal preference.

**Feel free to reverse the Brangelina roles in this vignette to suit your preferences.

***I realize that my little “What would you do?” scenario is flawed. No one who is put in that situation would contemplate the potential repercussions in that manner. You would simply react, either in defense of the burger clerk or your own hide.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

When the hero makes a windfall*

CWLP workers were hailed as heroes at this year’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Their tireless work in returning power and safety to a city knocked-out by tornadoes earned them the cheers of adults and the adoration of children who rushed into the street to scavenge the candy that they threw. I believe they were throwing Tootsie Rolls, although they could have easily afforded to toss Godivas.

Like many, I was surprised to learn just how well the city’s public works employees were compensated for their heroics. According to a report in the SJ-R, some received an entire week’s pay for every day they worked, during a period that stretched out over eight to ten days. Not too shabby. Now that our power has returned, I can safely ask: In your estimation, does news of this bountiful payday diminish the valiance of their efforts?

I’m not naive to the ways of the union contract. They quite perfunctorily stipulate that should their members be asked to perform beyond the boundaries of their daily routine, the employer will pay and pay big. That’s why when I see a maintenance crew repairing a water main break in the evening hours, I don’t feel sympathy because they are missing the new episode of 24, I calculate that they’ll probably be able to buy a new flat screen television with all the overtime they are raking in. And I imagine that they don’t want my condolences anyway, as long as their paycheck shows the proper respects.

Of course the post-tornado labors were a whole different ballgame. People’s livelihood and well-being were dependent on the linemen** and street crews expeditiously restoring service and normalcy to the community. Some of these workers were probably pushed to the brink of physical and mental exhaustion. Yet every indication is that they were unflagging in their efforts.

Early on during the relief efforts, a city worker was interviewed on the radio. Perhaps sensitive to the perception that he was profiting handsomely from the malady, he made a point of saying that he would be out there doing what he was doing even if they weren’t paying him. I don’t doubt him, but I’m not ready to assign his noble sentiments to everybody who was working on the city’s double dime. Not even the laziest employee would call in sick or knock off early what with all that extra cash being dangled before them.

It seems to me that greatly exceeding expectations is a prerequisite of heroism. So if you accept a job as an electrical lineman, where does duty end and valor begin? And does it matter whether it is altruism that inspires you to go above and beyond the call of duty, or something more materialistic?

By asking these questions I’m deferring from making a strong stand on this issue. It is the privilege of the blogger to raise such matters and then leave it to the anonymous commenters to make the rash pronouncements. I don’t want to be the one to rain on CWLP’s parade.

But if I must take a stance, I will do so while straddling both sides. As a taxpayer, I do find the overtime wages excessive. As someone who doesn’t like to be rousted out of bed and sent outdoors, mid-catastrophe, to handle high voltage power lines, I don’t begrudge them their hazard pay.

Are they heroes? That’s a question best answered by someone not concerned with their electricity being mysteriously turned off should a printout of this blog post end up tacked upon a bulletin board in a CWLP break room.

*Title inspired by a minor hit from the Bangles

**I have friends who are linemen for the city, and they drive the mainroad, lookin’ in the sun for another overload. But they don’t, as the song suggests, seem to be particularly susceptible to lovelornness.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

This Season's Scholastic Fashions

Congratulations to the District 186 school board committee that suggested that pajama pants and slippers may not be proper school attire. Allowing students to wear lounge ware and bedclothes* to school sends the wrong message as to what is expected of them in the classroom. And if you think that clothing doesn’t convey meaning, you aren’t a very astute observer of human behavior

Like it or not, clothing is a fundamental form of cultural communication and has a profound effect on our attitudes and behaviors. Ever since the Paleolithic man first donned a loincloth, our species has placed great significance on what people are wearing (Saber-tooth tiger fur before Labor Day? Taaackky!) Clothing has the ability to instantly alter our moods and influence both our expectations for ourselves, and those that others have for us.**

Put a young man in a set of dress blues and he stands tall. Put him in orange coveralls and he feels cast out. A woman who earns the honor of wearing a black robe will feel proud that she has further disproved the notion that females are intellectually inferior to men. Put Sandra Day O’Connor in a black French maid’s outfit and, well, let’s just leave that between her and Mr. Day O’Connor.

I’ve always been a proponent of school uniforms and dress codes, even if it does go against some of more liberal views in this area (I have no problem with green hair as long as it isn’t slimy.) I have the venerable television news magazine 60 Minutes to thank for my strict views on school attire.

Several years ago, Dan or Morley or Ed, I can’t remember which, was visiting a Marine boot camp. Immediately after a clip showing a young cadet being verbally berated for not attaining the proper shine on his belt buckle, the host asked the sergeant what was so damned important about a shiny belt buckle. I wondered the same thing.

The sergeant’s answer was both reasonable and enlightening. He stated that if they could train these cadets to give their full concentration to something as insignificant as a belt buckle, then they would know that they could be counted on to carry out more important tasks where their safety or that of others may be on the line.

From an opposite direction, if a teacher can get kids to understand that the same t-shirt and shorts they wear while playing on the Xbox aren’t appropriate for school, then maybe these kids will learn that the same vacuous mind-set that allows them to waste-away the hours in such a manner isn’t conducive to learning Algebra.

Yes, some students will excel in school no matter what they are wearing. But in schools we are not dealing with individuals most of the time, therefore the issue must be addressed considering a group dynamic.

A single teacher who is tasked with teaching a group of twenty or more students must instill discipline in her class so that all of her time isn’t spent dealing with behavioral issues. Discipline requires a significant degree of conformity from the group. And the necessary conformity can be achieved, at least in part, by a student body that looks as if they are all there to do the same thing. Preferably get an education, not fall asleep.

Many decry the lemming-like state they fear is produced when students are forced to all dress alike. This is a very superficial position to take for anyone espousing the importance of selfhood.

There are many more meaningful ways for a student to express his individuality at school then through sagging trousers. Such things as art, music, and poetry come immediately to mind, but really, anytime students are asked to think freely they have an opportunity to express their uniqueness in a way that speaks more to their creativity than does the slogan on their t-shirt. And unless a student is designing her clothes herself, she’s not really expressing her individuality; she is simply following the fashion trends set by the marketers at Abercrombie and Fitch. So who is the real lemming?

There is plenty time for students to show up for class looking as if they are still in bed, or never went to bed, once they get to college. By that time, most kids are in school because they want to be, or at least because they know it is in their best interest to be. Discipline isn’t a problem in college classrooms, at least in my experience. But students should have to earn a high school diploma, or at least their first million, before they start dressing like Hef.

*I suppose that in today’s topsy-turvy, down-is-up adolescent world, it is possible that these kids are wearing plaid jumpers and collared shirts to bed, but I have to believe that the appeal of pajamas at school is that it replicates the feeling of impending slumber.

**Clothing can sometimes deceive. I remember one time walking from the parking lot at White Oaks Mall towards the entrance as I pushed my daughter in her stroller. Before me were two teenage African Americans wearing what television had taught me was classic gangsta attire. When the pair reached the door, one of them turned around, saw me approaching with the stroller, and then stepped aside to hold the door for me. I admit I was surprised by this gesture. I didn’t suspect at anytime before that they poised a danger, but I also didn’t expect a random act of kindness. My bad.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Damn the Tornadoes

I don't have anything to post here, I just wanted to claim local dibs to that headline.