Thursday, October 18, 2018

Some final thoughts

I recently realized that there were two great thrills in doing Reddit's, Ask Me Anything! Over 1000 questioners seemed sincerely interested in what my answer would be and made no judgment of whether it was right or wrong. Equally exciting were the scores of responders who suggested that I write a book. What a high for this junior high school principal who had difficulty writing a weekly staff memo for his teachers!

Well there will be no book! I'm not up to that and one who writes a book is usually perceived as an authority. Working in the field of education with primary interests in family, religion, and sports, I have lived in a world where authorities are a dime a dozen. And being retired from the field of education for over 32 years, I make no claims to being an expert in education any more. Yet one thing I know for certain and that is that I have been privileged to have lived an extremely satisfying life through a fascinating period of our nation's history.

It's been extremely gratifying to have an opportunity to share my views with young people through the mystique of the Internet. Yet all good things must come to an end and my 15 minutes of fame as a "Reddit Guru" has been exhilarating. But with energy diminishing and new adventures before me in my retirement Valhalla, it's time for change. But inevitably I have a few "Final Thoughts" I feel driven to share.

1. The fact that the American electorate resorted to choosing our present leader is one of the greatest disappointment of my life. No need for me to enlarge on that, but it causes me to ponder the nature of humans worldwide in the democratic process. Specifically I recall another seminal event in my life experience: those "desperate" people who elected a Hitler: a man who also used fear and hatred in their quest for economic security. Yet I see in my own country an entertainer using those same techniques catering to the fears and base interests of society. Was it a failure of my chosen profession, education, to provide an enlightened electorate? While that's a problem demanding a long-term solution, my hope/plea is that the long ignored voices of our country – women, the economically deprived, minorities and young people will in a few days come to the polls in record number to provide a corrective course for our nation's future.

2. While I can recall previous periods of rancor and divisiveness in our country. I have never seen it reach such levels of vitriol and hate. It seems to be the new "Spirit of America." That "American Spirit" first chronicled by Alexis de Tocqueville not so many years ago - in the eye of history - has been replaced by a myopic view of life incorporating isolation, selfishness, divisiveness, contempt and suspicion. While studies and books have documented this, we seem to be in a period of isolationist "know nothingism" in our fitful and frantic rush to protect our personal welfare, status and interests. Facts and knowledge and science itself have been ridiculed. Yet it is knowledge and science that have been most valuable in fulfilling the American dream. For me, one publication stands out in chronicling our current dilemma, Robert Putnam's publication "Bowling Alone," Putnam laments the decline and loss of institutions and agencies that have been paramount in fostering a unity of purpose for our nation. These groupings were essential in providing a commonality for all people and ranged from churches to bowling leagues to civic clubs. The mass media followed by most of people were essential in creating community unity and providing a commonality of information through just a few newspapers and radio/TV channels. Knowledgeable journalists were respected for their thoughtful analysis expressing a variety of viewpoints

With scholars highlighting such a problem, one wonders why this is not been given greater national attention. My next three points briefly focus on areas where this has been particularly prevalent. Unfortunately, because of my desire to "go to press" quickly. I'll only be able to give them cursory attention.

3. There is little question that America has prided itself on being a "religious (yea Christian) nation." Yet it's a topic that is shunned by many as being "too personal or divisive" for polite discussion. And while lip service is given to religion with extremely high percentages of the citizenry avowing divine belief and religious affiliation, national statistics show a diminishing interest in participation in religious institutions. Putnam's, "Bowling Alone" was followed up by another book "American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us" forcefully documenting this decline. Yet there are many signs that there is a growing "hunger" or give meaning to life.

It is my contention that Religion has been given a bad rap as modern society, seeking meaning for life, has found new words and labels such as spirituality and "a search for meaning." “Can Religion Survive Worship" is a book that cause me to appreciate anew my lifelong interest in this topic. Making no bones about it, the book clearly describes that ALL RELIGIONS are created by humans in their search for giving meaning to life (spirituality) and structuring a moral code for the enhancement of communities of people living together. Worship has become idolatry. Could there be a greater American Heritage than providing space for all religions espousing love to find freedom and expression?

In my perception, unfortunately, organized religion has an extremely negative connotation. And as a long time adherent, I can understand why. Yet in my lifetime I have seen tremendous change led by progressive religious leaders in changing our society. I would contend that the progress made in civil rights for every minority and disadvantaged cultural group would not have occurred without the leadership of progressive, religious communities.

Yet I am most concerned with the dying church: there is an understandably urge for change. young people particularly have discarded religious traditions that still reflect a pre-scientific mindset. The last time the foundations of Christianity were challenged was 500 years ago when Martin Luther posted his 95 thesis. The concerns of that era, including words such as indulgences, justification by faith and bondage of the will mean nothing to young people today. I contend that the hypocrisy of blindly affirming dogmas is no longer acceptable to young people as they leave the church in droves. Yet is the spirituality, community and search for meaning in life that churches have and can provide that can give a much-needed moral tone to our society. Particularly as we discover the pride of giving all religions equal stature and status.

On a very personal level, I feel compelled to offer the following observation about religion. (Given my early heritage, I might say "testimony") I am tremendously grateful that my parents sought a neighborhood church to attend. I am confident that the teachings and moral values we were taught established the foundation for my life. I believe they were also instrumental in helping my wife and me provide a home that attempted to install the same values in our children. Yet I vehemently denounce the claim of any religion based on love and welfare of all to proclaim superiority over another religion. From my personal experience in attending them I must state that whatever it is called: synagogue, mosque, church or meetinghouse, it is there that I have found direction and peace.

4. I am extremely concerned with the public support of the public schools of America. Once the innovative pride of the world, Horace Mann's creation suffers from that neglect which was once a source of national unity. Raised In southern segregated schools, I can personally attest to the harmful effects of that divisiveness. But I know full well that there was community unity and doors open for all of my neighborhood rubbing elbows together. My cross-sectional enclave in my large southern city had rich and poor (admittedly segregated) people of all faiths, nationalities and abilities together. The proliferation of both private schools and Charter Schools inevitably has undercut the spirit of unity within our country.

5. In my day we played sports for fun and to fill our idle hours. From this outsiders view of the current scene, it appears that the emphasize is on winning teams, excellence, possible college scholarships and creating a harried home life. In my day we dabbled in a variety of sports according to the weather and the "professional season." There were even quasi legal prohibitions on participation in sports outside the season. We had no trophies telling us we were winners or participants. We found plenty of good competition nearby rather than feeling the need to travel great distances that require family contributions or community fundraiser. While lamenting the erosion of family time. I also question the effect on a child's outlook as we glorify winning and excellence. I discuss this with some reluctance as one who had many doors opened for me because of my involvement on teams. Certainly the basketball hoop my father put in the backyard that gave me an initial skill would not suffice today in competition with those participating year-round at professional camps.

That's about all the energy a 92-year-oldster has in relating experiences from a good life. But I feel compelled to once again recall one of my continued concerns regarding a failure of our current affluent society. There's no question that the health of the world is endangered by human lifestyles. While young people have been in the forefront of citing this problem, I contend that current lifestyles increasingly contribute to the problem. Lip service is given, but a variety of practices in the name of comfort and convenience only exacerbate the problem. Where is the protest and demand that would lead to strict laws that would force national and recognized practices ameliorateing the problems?How can it be that we remain one of the only developed countries that has only 10 of the 50 states having a bottle deposit law that has been universally recognized as important, but lobbied against effectively  by the beverage industries.

So that's it! It's time for me to move on to my next endeavors. Thanks for reading my rants to the end.