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Political Mental Map: Life Is Like High School

Normally I would post exceptionally good comments as updates to the original post that generated the comments, but I’m not doing that on the “Political Mental Map” post because I don’t want people to debate them in the comments. I’m moving the comments that struck me strongly to separate posts. I’m going to start this as a series. Please feel at liberty to comment on the particular claims made in these breakout posts.

Here’s one from reader RBH:

In terms of personal things that make up a roadmap to how I actually got here:

1) Substitute teaching at large public high schools. Before I started grad school I was working a bunch of different odd jobs, and taught at a number of big high schools in Austin, and it was just a behavioral nightmare. I was about 10 years out of high school myself, and was just shocked at the crudeness and disrespect of these kids. My empathy for them vanished. There was a difference though school to school, and it had a lot to do with whether or not the Principal backed the teachers in holding the line on rules, or if they wanted to be lenient on students. The lenient schools were a disaster, students always sunk to the lowest expectation. At the end of the day though, I concluded that it wouldn’t matter one bit how good these schools were, it had everything to do with the culture, home, and family they grew up in. No amount of money could fix them.

2) Going to grad school at a policy school, and being disappointed. These schools are the epitome of managerial class thinking. It’s all about data this data that – social problems are seen as an equation. There was little discussion of separation of powers, the limitation of agencies based on their governing statutes, let alone culture or human nature, people were just seen as rational actors that responded to various incentives – regardless of culture or social context. And indeed our government has turned into a massive, mostly-failed, experiment in applied social science, and when programs don’t work, they don’t go away, they get bigger. There was a divide in the school though among scholars and practitioners, and I got a lot more from the political theorists. It always struck me, and still does, that we aren’t even working off the same concept of human nature, especially as a Christian that believes in human fallenness and propensity toward sin. I learned just as much from a couple of guys I met there that liked to get together and talk about all this stuff, and knew way more than I did. They’re still my best friends, and one – who was deeply influenced by and introduce me to people like Wendell Berry and Patrick Deneen – finished first in the class, but followed his theories to their logical ends, and upon graduation, moved back to his hometown, and got involved in a local business that is very tangible, real, and employs local people. I don’t doubt one bit that he’s happier than our classmates pushing paper in DC trying to fix people’s problems they’ll never see, he’s actually doing something about it – he sells beer.

This brought to mind a formative experience I had, that I had forgotten about. I can’t believe this slipped my mind. This is probably the MOST politically formative experience for me!

Longtime readers know that I went through a period in my life — ninth and tenth grade, which I guess is ages 14 and 15 — in which I was bullied in school. What made it especially painful was that the bullies included guys who had been my best friends throughout elementary school. They wanted to be part of the cool older crowd once we got to ninth grade, and for whatever reason, that meant throwing me over the side, and joining my tormentors. The initiating event for that, as I’ve written before, was a group of the cool kids — boys — holding me down in a hotel room on a beach trip, and trying to pants me to impress their girlfriends, who were looking on. There I was, pinned to the floor, begging the two adult chaperones in the room to help me, and they literally stepped over me to get out of the room. They wanted to be cool parents, and that meant not saying no to the cool kids.

In the two years I spent in that school after that event, I learned that the people you thought were your best friends will turn on you just like that, when they perceive their self-interest requires it. I learned that people, when they mob up, are horrible, and only strong authority can protect vulnerable individuals from the mob. But I also learned that authority cannot be trusted — that those in authority will look for every reason they can to avoid exercising it when it would involve punishing those they favor.

change_me

To see that lesson play itself out decades later, in the Catholic abuse scandal — well, suffice it to say that that confirmed my priors with the force of an asteroid strike. I believe that writing about the scandal twenty years later as a journalist reactivated a lot of ugly crap that I had buried, and led to my loss of Catholic faith.

A much more minor, but still interesting lesson that formed my political mental map — this, related to RBH’s story.

I left home to start my junior year in high school at a publicly-funded boarding school for gifted kids in Louisiana. After the first six weeks, we were sent home for a long weekend break, and I visited my favorite teacher in my old school. I sat in on one of her classes. I was shocked to see how much time she had to spend disciplining the class. It had been invisible to me before, because I had never known classrooms to be different. In the first six weeks at my new public school, teachers never had to discipline their students. Everybody was quiet, well-behaved, and wanted to learn. Because teachers didn’t have to spend so much time and effort disciplining classes, we were able to cover so much more ground, and the classroom process was much less stressful.

Like RBH, from that I learned that most people lack self-discipline. In most cases, the lack of strong home training will show itself. The point of government is to protect those who want to do the right thing, and build up the community, from the jackasses who want to ruin it for everybody else.

I have a complicated and contradictory political view. I do not trust the People, but I don’t trust Authority either. The paradox here, as I wrote about in my book The Little Way Of Ruthie Leming [1], is that the same tight communal bonds that made small-town life very hard for outsiders and marginalized people like me were what made things so beautiful and loving for my late sister as she suffered from cancer. That is, the things that held me down when I was a teenager living there were not all that different from the things that held her up when she was terminally ill. I don’t know what to do with that. Still don’t.

I tend to have a mildly authoritarian personality, because I fear chaos (which empowers bullies), but I also do not trust authority to do the right thing. If it does, I’m pleasantly surprised. As I wrote in that first post, I came to trust conservative government and the Roman Catholic Church to be sources of authority, and good exercisers of it. The abuse scandal and the Iraq War (as well as Bush administration cronyism) destroyed that.

I hadn’t thought about it till now, but one reason I push the Benedict Option [2] is because I have no faith in the leadership of our large institutions to address effectively the crisis in which we all find ourselves.

Oh, one more thing: watching the 1978 TV miniseries Holocaust. I was 12 years old, and interested in World War II. I had a vague knowledge about the Holocaust, and wanted to watch the show because I was interested in the war. I recall watching with mounting horror as things turned for the German Jews. On the second or the third night of the week-long broadcast, there was a scene in which the Germans lined a bunch of naked Jews up beside a trench, and shot them en masse. I was lying on my left side on the green shag carpet floor in our living room watching that — and I started to sob. I began convulsing. My father rose from his chair and carried me to my bed. That was the end of Holocaust for me.

That right there was the beginning of my fear and loathing of the mob.

28 Comments (Open | Close)

28 Comments To "Political Mental Map: Life Is Like High School"

#1 Comment By Evw On November 8, 2018 @ 12:35 pm

Oh man, Holocaust! That was a pinnacle experience after just coming from a country torn to shreds by Communism. And it’s when I got the acting bug. Streep, Woods, Feldshuh, Moriarty, Weaver. Amazing cast.

#2 Comment By Roy Fassel On November 8, 2018 @ 12:38 pm

That right there was the beginning of my fear and loathing of the mob.
===========================

We live in an age of a mass movement that has been part of human history. Eric Hoffer wrote about it.

Hoffer quotes

In a time of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.

Rudeness is the weak man’s imitation of strength.
The hardest arithmetic to master is that which enables us to count our blessings.

You can discover what your enemy fears most by observing the means he uses to frighten you.

We lie loudest when we lie to ourselves.

Disappointment is a sort of bankruptcy – the bankruptcy of a soul that expends too much in hope and expectation.

The greatest weariness comes from work not done.
When people are free to do as they please, they usually imitate each other.

An empty head is not really empty; it is stuffed with rubbish. Hence the difficulty of forcing anything into an empty head.

Absolute faith corrupts as absolutely as absolute power.

[3]

#3 Comment By David J. White On November 8, 2018 @ 12:47 pm

Oh, one more thing: watching the 1978 TV miniseries Holocaust.

I seem to remember a scene where a friend of the Jewish family at the center of the story us advising them to get out of Germany while they still can, because he can see what is coming. The wife of one if the family members (played, IIRC, by a young Meryl Streep) said, incredulously, “Such a thing could never happen in the country of Goethe and Schiller!” The friend replied, “Unfortunately, Madam, neither of those gentlemen is in office at the moment.”

#4 Comment By JonF On November 8, 2018 @ 12:53 pm

I’m currently doing a bit of a deep dive into Byzantine history. It’s astonishing how much a role the mob of Constantinople played. They almost overthrew Justinian, and they were a key factor in the Crusader assault in 1204, after deposing two emperors in a row and leaving the city the leaderless.

#5 Comment By hajaxavier On November 8, 2018 @ 12:55 pm

I was born and raised in Mexico but studied in the US. One thing I noticed immediately, although I don’t think I had the vocabulary to describe at the time, was the difference in core values between Mexicans and Americans youth. I was floored the first time I heard “its a free country, i can do what I want” when defending what I saw as misbehaving in school. Americans value personal freedom, Mexicans value respect. I’m trying to think if any of my Mexicans friends ever said anything remotely close to “I can do whatever I want”. One thing I heard over and over growing up was “you have to learn how to show respect” or worse, “you didn’t show me/your teacher/etc. respect”. The latter meant I was in trouble.

#6 Comment By Ragged Clown On November 8, 2018 @ 1:03 pm

Mobs are something to be feared for sure but I’m sure I won’t be the only person to note that the people killing Jews during the Holocaust weren’t the mob. They were the authorities.

[NFR: Yes, exactly — but my point is that the mob mentality can become institutionalized. In the Jim Crow South, the difference between the white mob and the governing authorities was hard to discern. — RD]

#7 Comment By PJM On November 8, 2018 @ 1:18 pm

The older I get the more I distrust large, removed “authority.” As a younger man I placed a lot of trust in the governance design of systems, especially those predicated on moral principles and virtue – like the Catholic Church, or political parties (laugh if you’d like at my naive approach, both parties sell themselves as the incarnation of moral principles which is why we’re in this mess). I took as a given that only the best people would rise to the top. Blame the West Wing, I suppose.

BenOp is intriguing because it works on subsidiarity. People making decisions are close to the consequences of those decisions. Persons are valued first and foremost, and with prudence and judgement can dictate when authority has to be exercised or rules need to be bent. Perhaps this is why Christianity was kept alive in the dark ages in monasteries. Without getting theological, this survival mode happened prior to the Catholic medieval synthesis of Aristotelian philosophy with Christianity. Long way of saying ‘the perfect often becomes the enemy of the good’ and at the heart of Christianity is a conversion of heart. No social programs or strategic plans can bring that about.

This realization is fueling my “conservative 2.0” phase, where I have a lot more respect and understanding of those who buck authority, a greater wish for diffused and local responsibility (even if I see things very differently from my neighbors), more distrust of motives, but at the same time more patience (I hope) with where people are.

#8 Comment By Ray On November 8, 2018 @ 1:18 pm

I was also bullied a lot around those middle school years. We moved around a lot and from Grades 6 to 11 I attended a different school each year – some in Canada and some in the US. I was always a bit nerdy so with being new I was an easy target, especially in the US where my accent was funny as well.

That experience created in me a strong desire to protect the weak, as well as a heightened sense of justice. I decided in high school that I wanted to fight bullies.

So I became a soldier. Nerdy I might have been, but I grew up to be physically large and strong. I had never been aggressive as a kid, but training and motivation has made me a confident, capable fighter.

Our armies don’t always do good in the world, but we are usually on the good side. (I’m Canadian but have served with Americans often so I use ‘our’ to mean all our close allies). Our soldiers are as imperfect as anyone else, but we at least strive to serve morally and justly.

Finally, while many of our enemies are just slobs trying to do a job, some of them are the kinds of scumbags that rape women, torture or murder children and attack schools. These are the guys I joined to fight. The world is a little bit better every time we kill one of these bastards and, may God forgive me, it gives me great satisfaction when we do.

#9 Comment By Franklin Evans On November 8, 2018 @ 1:23 pm

It wasn’t a mental map moment for me, but it informs that map to this day.

In 8th grade — I was short of 14 years old — the entire grade sat in the school auditorium and watched the compilation of the news film footage of the liberation of the death camps, the ones Eisenhower ordered released to the public without censorship. I don’t recall much of the specific details — most of the footage was from Auschwitz, I think — but I remember the experience and the conversation I had with my mother at the end of that day.

I was traumatized. I complained to my mother, that I should have at least known about it before seeing it. She nodded and said what still resides prominently in my mind: there is nothing, not one thing, that cannot be examined in the harsh light of day. You can’t fight evil if you can’t see it.

I mentioned her stories of fleeing from her home — Zagreb, Croatia — and hiding in northern Italy. She made me pause. She said the thing I needed to know is that she and her family, unknowingly at the time, were very lucky. She then mentioned the approximately 3/4 of her extended family who were not so lucky.

A few years ago I accompanied my daughter and her Hebrew school class to the National Holocaust Museum in D.C. That 8th grade trauma made me completely averse to any other telling of those stories. I’ve never watched Schindler’s List. I regretted watching Sophie’s Choice. I was severely conflicted about going to the museum, but I knew I had to honor my mother’s example and memory.

At the time, the main exhibit was a linear walk through the events and realities of the period. I made it through, I examined everything as my mother would have wanted me to do. At the end, I sat on a bench and wept for several minutes. When I looked up, I saw others weeping, and looking around I realized that the museum had designed the space for that very reason and purpose, a place to stop, feel, react and recover.

I still feel no motivation to see movies or read books about the Holocaust. However, that moment in the museum gave me the opportunity to release my trauma, to give it voice and to let it go. I realized that we cannot stop at defining or identifying evil. We must in some way assimilate it, understand it viscerally, because we are all called to oppose it, in the manners in which we are capable.

We cannot, we must not wait until evil visits us personally, harms us and our loved ones. I don’t say it often, maybe I should, but this is what I mean: There but for the grace of God go I.

#10 Comment By Derek On November 8, 2018 @ 1:37 pm

After the first six weeks, we were sent home for a long weekend break, and I visited my favorite teacher in my old school. I sat in on one of her classes. I was shocked to see how much time she had to spend disciplining the class. It had been invisible to me before, because I had never known classrooms to be different. In the first six weeks at my new public school, teachers never had to discipline their students. Everybody was quiet, well-behaved, and wanted to learn. Because teachers didn’t have to spend so much time and effort disciplining classes, we were able to cover so much more ground, and the classroom process was much less stressful.
===========================
This exact thing (some teachers spending an inordinate amount of class time on discipline) is happening in the school that our 13-year-old attends.

The problem is that the school in question is an accredited classical Christian school. Which, in my mind, suggests two things. First, that (of course) classical Christian education is no guaranteed educational utopia. And secondly, that so much hinges upon (as your reader said) “…the culture, home, and family [the students] grew up in.”

My wife and I are still huge proponents of classical Christian schooling and the problems at our local school aren’t even close to what is happening in the government schools. Nevertheless, when even a small segment of the student body goads each other on in snarkiness, indifference, and passive-aggressive disobedience, then that junior mob mentality is like a pathogen that runs amok and negatively effects those that are at school trying to respect their instructors and learn all they can to the glory of God.

I’m afraid that if it weren’t for her small group of godly school friends and the efforts of a few heroic teachers willing to push back, my daughter would be at her wit’s end. And I couldn’t blame her. I can already see the behaviors of these foolish “students” creating a negative mental map for her and it grieves me deeply.

#11 Comment By woke On November 8, 2018 @ 1:40 pm

…when programs don’t work, they don’t go away, they get bigger.

Somewhere around 2010 Obama promised to eliminate homelessness in 5 years. I remember thinking, “No way.” Not only would that be impossible as a practical matter, but even if it were possible it wouldn’t be done. Think of all the people whose livelihoods depend on there being homeless people. Academics doing studies, social workers, government agencies, and so forth. They’d all be out of jobs! No way they’re going to do that to themselves.

Similarly with Democrats who promise to do something about poverty. Never going to happen. They’d lose too many votes. Best to keep them on the plantation.

The purpose of government programs is not to solve problems but to perpetuate them.

#12 Comment By Franklin Evans On November 8, 2018 @ 1:42 pm

[4].

Ferdinand (Frank) Stift was my grandfather. My mother Gertruda Renata changed her name to Renée when she became a U.S. citizen.

Set of 13 dental hand tools in a small wooden storage case used by Dr. Ferdinand Stift and brought with him when he and his family fled from Zagreb, Croatia, to Asti, Italy, in December 1941. The tools include scalpels, excavators, chisels, descalers, and hatchets. In April 1941, the Axis powers invaded and partitioned Yugoslavia. Zagreb was located in the Independent State of Croatia, which was controlled by the pro-Nazi Ustasa regime. One of Ferdinand’s patients, Archbishop Aloysius Viktor Stepinac, knew about upcoming actions against the Jews and told Ferdinand to flee with his wife, Teresia, and children, Gertruda Renata and Fredrich Miroslav. The family was baptized and given false papers as Catholics, then fled to Italian controlled Split and Krk Island in August 1941. In December, they went to Asti, Italy, where they lived as confined refugees. Ferdinand and his family were liberated by Allied forces in April 1945. Ferdinand, his wife, and son emigrated to the United States in 1946.

My mother, father and eldest sister (born in Asti 1946) arrived in the U.S. via Chile in 1948.

#13 Comment By Zgler On November 8, 2018 @ 2:05 pm

“Similarly with Democrats who promise to do something about poverty. Never going to happen. They’d lose too many votes. Best to keep them on the plantation.”

This reminds me of the statement a conservative commenter made regarding liberals. “Conservatives think liberals are stupid. Liberals think Conservatives are evil.”

In this case the writer is assuming the Democrats are the evil ones. I don’t think assuming your opponents are evil does any good. People always believe they have the best intentions. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, right?

#14 Comment By TimG On November 8, 2018 @ 2:10 pm

Hajaxavier,

The first time I set foot in a Mexican college classroom, I was shocked at the lack of respect for the professor (who, honestly, didn’t command the respect he might have). Since then in hundreds of hours in elementary and high school classrooms there I would say that respect isn’t necessarily any more of a cultural value in my context there, but largely like in the US depends on the teacher and what the students bring from home.

#15 Comment By thomas tucker On November 8, 2018 @ 2:10 pm

I think the human race never really changes. The things we experienced as children, and the things that are occurring now, are the same things that humans have always experienced. And none of us are all good or all evil. Such is the way of the world and ever has been, world without end, amen. I think we are basically animals with greater cognitive abilities.

#16 Comment By connecticut farmer On November 8, 2018 @ 2:18 pm

“Such a thing could never happen in the country of Goethe and Schiller!”

This was almost identical to the line used by one of the cast members (German actor Heinz Rheumann) in the 1965 Stanley Kramer movie “Ship of Fools” (loosely based upon the ill-fated SS St. Louis). I think in the latter case Beethoven was either added to or substituted for one or the other but, same point. One could say the same thing about The Gulag or The Holodomor happening in the country of Tolstoy, Pushkin and Tchaikovsky. And yet…it happened. Which proves that great nations–whose people, like the rest of us, are either risen apes or fallen angels– can at one time or another (sometimes simultaneously) can produce great art and great crimes. One has nothing to do with the other. Or does it?

#17 Comment By Fran Macadam On November 8, 2018 @ 5:55 pm

“I have a complicated and contradictory political view. I do not trust the People, but I don’t trust Authority either.”

I was beaten every day in public school by bullies, and neither the group of other children nor the authorities ever stepped in to stop it.

I am a populist, because I believe in democratic accountability rather than unaccountable elites without popular restraint on their power.

Nevertheless, human sinful nature makes it clear that without proper moral training of individuals, democracy can degenerate into mob violence.

To this day, I feel alienated in large crowds, whether the activity is innocent or not.

From practical experience, I do believe democratically accountable leadership can exercise responsible power, by remaining humble and accountable, while striving to do good for others according to God’s will. Sometimes that does require explanation to constituents rather than pandering, something that appears to have become difficult for both the leaders and constituents.

#18 Comment By Fran Macadam On November 8, 2018 @ 6:02 pm

” I think we are basically animals with greater cognitive abilities.”

Animals kill for no more than they need. Human beings industrialized mass murder for reasons that have nothing to do with cognitive abilities, but make use of them.

Greed. As the Son of God emphasizes, the love of money is the root of all evil. The Buddha didn’t explain how that happened, but recognized that such desire was the cause of deception and suffering, which ought to be a universal perception.

#19 Comment By Katie On November 8, 2018 @ 6:15 pm

Great idea to do a series. My mental political map was transformed beyond what I thought possible by your blog, Rod. I don’t say this to flatter because you don’t strike me as a person who needs that kind of thing but because it’s true.

I was a very typical Ivy-educated professor in the Humanities. I thought that religious people were all dumb bigots who opposed the wonderfully progressive movement towards social justice because they were filled with hate.

When I first stumbled across your blog a few years ago, I thought you were one of the crazy bigots and disagreed with everything. But the writing was so damn good! I’m a Humanities professor after all, and I couldn’t resist the lure of good writing. So I kept reading and soon discovered that you were reading many of the same authors I did and responding to them in a way that made a lot of sense. And after a while, I realized that there was a powerful and coherent system of beliefs that informed your positions. I started reading other conservative thinkers, and what they were saying was actually making sense. This will sound ludicrous but I was honestly stunned to discover that one could be a conservative without being a raging fanatic without an ounce of common sense or decency. In my defense, that’s what I was taught throughout my education at various prestigious institutions of higher learning.

This awakening coincided with the time of growing ideological intolerance within academia and especially the Humanities. I realized that I’m scared of sharing the details of my intellectual journey with colleagues and even friends. And it’s not even that I have arrived at particularly shocking conclusions. Shouldn’t I be able to say freely, “Hey, I believe people like Rod Dreher, Bret Stephens, Kevin Williamson, and others do have something of value to say” without fear?

For the first time in my life, I voted Republican in these midterms but I’m not sharing it with anybody because I don’t want to become a pariah at work and among friends. I don’t consider myself to be a particularly cowardly person but I need to make a living, and unless I find a club of crypto-conservatives nearby, I fear being isolated.

I’m glad I expanded my horizons and no longer subscribe to the reductive worldview of the typical SJW professors, but it’s a lonely business when you are in my line of work.

I want to thank you for your blog and for The Benedict Option, which I read and loved.

[NFR: How very kind, and encouraging to me! Thank you. — RD]

#20 Comment By aaron On November 8, 2018 @ 6:34 pm

“This reminds me of the statement a conservative commenter made regarding liberals. “’Conservatives think liberals are stupid. Liberals think Conservatives are evil.’”

I’ve heard this several times before, but I don’t see it in practice. It seems to me more that conservatives think liberals are stupid and evil, and liberals think conservatives are stupid and evil.

#21 Comment By Good Reason On November 8, 2018 @ 7:14 pm

This is quite profound. The Mob is a beast. But the Government is a beast, also. Both unthinking; both unfeeling. Both capable of massive and mindless destruction of the little guy.

Thank goodness for God, who does see the little guy. Those who trust in Him will never be ashamed.

#22 Comment By thomas tucker On November 8, 2018 @ 7:42 pm

@Fran- your statement about animals’ killing is simply a “pious idea” that is not borne out by experience.

#23 Comment By GR On November 8, 2018 @ 7:58 pm

This is quite profound. The Mob is a beast. But the Government is a beast, also. Both unthinking; both unfeeling. Both capable of massive and mindless destruction of the little guy.

Both the mob and the government, are made up of ‘the little guy’.

#24 Comment By cka2nd On November 9, 2018 @ 2:17 am

woke says: “The purpose of government programs is not to solve problems but to perpetuate them.”

Two examples that contradict this libertarian or objectivist talking point:

Senior citizens were the poorest age cohort in the USA as recently as 1960. Medicare, Medicaid and reforms to Social Security are largely responsible for making senior citizens the richest age cohort in the USA.

The G.I. Bill was enacted to ensure that veterans would not be attracted to either fascism or communism, as veterans of World War I in both this country and especially in Europe had been. It worked, as WW II veterans supported neither movement in any great number.

#25 Comment By VikingLS On November 9, 2018 @ 5:58 am

@Zgler

I don’t know if that was the point Woke was making. I have similar suspicions about the Republican party and abortion, and I’m a Republican.

#26 Comment By Fran Macadam On November 9, 2018 @ 8:58 am

“@Fran- your statement about animals’ killing is simply a ‘pious idea’ that is not borne out by experience.”

I’m open to hearing about this experience.

Thus far, though, Animal Farm is about understanding people, not animals.

#27 Comment By Tim On November 9, 2018 @ 6:08 pm

Very interesting stuff here, including the comments, as usual. Political influences are all over the map for me and have straddled the ideological divide since my teen years, when I regularly devoured my dad’s copies of National Review. It was a tremendous reading experience and I’ve always had a soft spot for WFB. But life happened. My mother died when I was 11. Within 3 years I was living in a mixed-race step family situation that lasted through most of high school. The school itself was an influence; when you sweat and strain alongside black guys who don’t know what to make of you at first but gradually accept you as a teammate, when you study and match wits with black and brown kids who are as smart or smarter than you on a daily basis, when you get to know people whose own inherent virtues – including kindness and faith – are clear, racial prejudice is never again part of your equation. I was awkward, uncomfortable and out of place for most of high school, but I learned things everyone should know but few ever have the opportunity to grasp. Moving from a comfortable kid’s existence in a small town to a big suburban high school made a positive difference for me. As a perennial round peg I couldn’t find any comfortable square holes, so I majored in art in college. I ended up at a place top heavy with a bunch of brilliant, eccentric profs and a lot of smart, sensitiveart-damaged acolytes among my peers. Of course, when I finally got out I needed a job. Sans connections (or interest in) business, I became a teacher. The reading experiences gathered along the way helped me secure credentials to teach 3 subjects, so I started with English in a hard-scrabble inner-city jr. high. But my education was just beginning. It was the late 80s and I was astonished to find that many of my students had no relatives (that they knew of) who had lived in the US during WWII. They didn’t know when it had started or why. They were rowdy, but boredom and lack of connection with their teachers and school was a big part of that. Meanwhile, early conservative influences, brought somewhat into question (though not entirely effaced)by college experiences, were making room for a workaday reality beyond the ken of my original middle-American, WASP family. I spent 10 years in the ‘hood and finally took a flyer on returning to teach in my old hometown when the stars aligned for it. I was very glad to have a chance to see my kids growing up in the same beautiful little place I’d known in the late 60s and early 70s. It was good for years, but the bottom dropped out when my oldest was badly bullied by a juvenile delinquency quest classmate and the school principal – my boss – exacerbated the situation. Back to Cali. we went, sad to leave dear friends behind but with no further illusions about the ultimate moral superiority of small town society. But it was much better place to go to church and be a member of a small congregation ministered to by an earnest and thoughtful priest. Upon returning to the ‘burbs the experience of being observant became disenchanting for a number of reasons. Having raised our kids as Catholics – my wife’s roots – we went through the motions of confirmation, but they never learned much of anything about Jesus, so it seemed like a waste of time. Haven’t been back in awhile and have no plans to try again. But I am a believer and reflect every day on all that goes with that. Which is why I am still torn by politics. Conservatism is right in principle as an approach to dealing with issues, but it doesn’t trump (no pun intended) conscience. Lots of very vocal people on the right seem to have turned that around and lost their bearings. Pragmatism of the political moment binds them so tightly they are willing to indulge their dark side in pursuit of power. Their president launched himself into his present position by fraudulently questioning the origin of a black man with a weird name, and they’re fine with that. I can’t keep company with that. I also resent the shrill sanctimony of the left. Not long ago my best friend – I’ve known him since 1974, when we were in 9th grade together – opined that public education is a racist institution. Of course, having spent 21 years of a 30 year career in inner-city schools, I know that’s absurd. What was particularly galling was that he said that to me with a straight face, never having discussed it with me for at all. It’s an article of faith with him, and he’s profoundly mistaken. I’m still close to him but have yet to recover from that slap in the face. Through it all, though, I have found a source of comfort. I keep a short prayer by Thomas Merton in my wallet. It starts with “…I have no idea where I’m going. I do not see the road ahead of me…” The original inspiration for those words remains alive in the hearts and minds of millions of people around the world after 2,000 years. I am grateful for that and will keep it in mind as worldly events take their course. I know that, among other things, it reconnects me to my mother. She, the daughter of intensely devout Calvinist parents, married my father in the early ’50s to consecrate a relationship that began with an adulterous affair. Eighteen years later, as she lay dying and riddled with cancer, she wrote letters to her parents that manifested humility, gratitude, and faith. Somehow she seems to have shed some grace on me, and I think that’s beyond the reach of anyone’s policy or ideology. I’m still trying to make sense of it but am grateful for the chance to do so.

#28 Comment By K squared On November 10, 2018 @ 9:18 am

I graduated from Boston Latin School, a public exam school in the early 70’s. About 5 years later after college, I ran into a classmate who’d been doing substitute teaching at the school. He said that he couldn’t believe the discipline problems. When we were there, yes there was plenty of messing around, acting up and pulling all sorts of crap; but when a teacher said “Sit down and shut up!” you sat down and shut up. My classmate said that then, late 70’s, the response to that with not just subs, but regular teachers too would be “Make me!”