Thursday, January 1, 2015

A Poem for President Adams

Well sports fans, in the fast paced game of life it’s OK to stop frantically skimming the Internet, take a break, and actually read something. “Literacy builds citizens.” This winter, as folks are relaxing over A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, the carol, or lesson, is that an individual can change overnight.

It logically follows that groups of individuals can also learn to change, although perhaps not overnight. We have all heard of teams where people learn to play fair, acquire team spirit, and become better Americans. As long as games build character, there will be sports in our schools. Coach John Wooden once said something like—in my own words and understanding—scientists might disagree as to his felt need to support his athlete’s character, but scientists aren’t responsible for turning young men and woman into basketball players. Wooden’s players always had to clean up after themselves—no dropping towels on the floor for someone else to pick up, no selfish jerks allowed.

It follows that a coach can share his vision not only with a team, but with a nation. A German coach had his people believing in inflated egos and national glory. Yes, that was in the 1930’s. In the next decade, a British coach offered no easy vision: He said he offered nothing but blood, sweat and tears for folks defending their little islands. And in the decade after that, not from a national coach but from a nation-wide understanding, on another group of islands, bereft of resources, the whole team felt a need to step up to the plate. That was then. Now elders complain the younger generation has the “American disease” of not wanting to work real hard.

In my father’s lifetime the East Germans have gone from a naive republic, to fascism, and then to communism, and on to democracy. After the game of communism was called off, I read that folks of the ost, although trained as professionals, were not even trying to get the jobs they were qualified for. What these volks had to learn first was a sense of personal “agency.” As I see it, “democracy” by definition requires agency, meaning that voters, in their own minds, must be “citizens.” No listless team ever won a game. Come to think of it, in the oppressive Arab lands, where “civilians” wimper to say, “What’s the use?” a wimp who goes out of bounds and cheats would be a kin to a terrorist.

I see no reason why America can’t have both an inspiring coach in the White House and, at the same time, like during the years of a handsome young president in Camelot, have a multitude of local coaches like a host of candles across the land. We can all glow. My father, who well remembers John F. Kennedy, grew up during the roaring twenties, but he learned to humbly recycle during the dirty thirties. Not just him, everyone managed to learn. No team is hopeless.

In the dusty world arena, the future belongs to countries with enough agency and spirit to change and innovate. Now people are standing up to say, “We can teach our children to be creative.” I guess that’s why in California’s Silicon Valley the rich geeks are not sending their children to public schools, nor to public schools on steroids such as private “preparatory” (for college) schools—not that there’s anything wrong with being a preppie—but instead to schools inspired by Waldorf and Montessori. Maybe America’s last competitive advantage is “good old American individuality.”

It’s too bad, then, how right in the midst of the “American century,” when Dad was doing his best for his children, we seemed to have bent our culture towards conformity. Becoming less inner-directed and more other-directed. That was then. Now it’s time to get back to fundamentals and re-learn the old plays. We can learn again to be a team of creative individuals. Yes life is real, but hey sports fan, we needn’t be too earnest or too grim. As the winners in many fields would tell us, “life is a fun game.”

Now here's a fun poem:
John Quincy Adams
By Stephen Vincent Benet

When President John Quincy
Set out to take a swim,
He’d hang his presidential clothes
Upon a hickory limb.
And bound in the Potomac,
Like a dolphin on the swell,
—He was extremely dignified
But rather plump, as well.

And when Supreme Court Justices
Remarked, from their canoe,
“Our presidents don’t do such things.”
He merely said, “I do.”
He never asked what people thought
But gave them tit for tat.
The Adamses have always been
Remarkably like that.

Sean Crawford
On New Years Day

~From the web essayist I refer to the most, comes a consideration of what congress and the president can do for innovation, newly posted.

~And regarding the point #3 in the above essay, the latest post by my favourite web essayist addresses that point; it's something he has essayed about before.

~An essay/book review of Neil Postman’s Decline of Childhood, on how Literacy Grows People, is archived July of 2012.

~For coach John Wooden’s specific quote, see my essay Finding a Workplace Philosophy archived July 2013.

~On that day in Dallas I was home watching TV updates in the basement while mother was working upstairs, sad from the radio whenever she brought laundry down.

~When Bill Murray sought teamwork from his peers in the movie Stripes he said something like, “OK, who cried when Old Yeller died? We are all Americans.”

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