Young, Devout, Maligned

Adults routinely trivialize, and in some cases derogate, young people’s religious values, beliefs, and practices. It’s wrong and it should stop.

Exhibit A. Slate Magazine’s Tom Scocca’s recent anti-Joel Northrup screed. Northrup is the homeschooled Iowa wrestler who two weeks ago chose to forfeit his state tournament wrestling match because he didn’t want to compete against a female.

Here’s what Northrup said about his decision not to wrestle. “I have a tremendous amount of respect for Cassy and Megan and their accomplishments. However wrestling is a combat sport and it can get violent at times. As a matter of conscience and my faith, I do not believe it is appropriate for a boy to engage a girl in this manner. It is unfortunate that I have been placed in a situation not seen in most high school sports in Iowa.”

And here’s Scocca’s unbelievable Slate Magazine response.

Iowa Wrestler Won’t Wrestle a Girl Because His Parents Are Raising Him to Be Self-ImportantPosted Thursday, February 17, 2011 10:08 PM | By Tom Scocca
Joel Northrup, a 112-pound high school wrestler in Iowa, decided to lose his first match in the state tournament by default rather than compete against a female opponent, Cassy Herkelman. Northrup wrestles, or sometimes chooses to refuse to wrestle, for the Linn-Mar High School Lions, although he does not attend Linn-Mar High School. He is home-schooled by his parents, but Iowa allows homeschoolers to participate in varsity athletics.Having been given the chance to take part in the Linn-Mar athletic program, Northrup and his parents decided to use the public school as a platform for their beliefs about the role of women. In a statement, Northrup wrote:”[W]restling is a combat sport and it can get violent at times. As a matter of conscience and my faith, I do not believe that is appropriate for a boy to engage a girl in this manner. It is unfortunate that I have been placed in a situation not seen in most other High School sports in Iowa.”The passive voice—”I have been placed in a situation”—is appropriate, narrowly. Northrup’s father, Jamie Northrup, said the family helped the son make the decision. (The elder Northrup is reportedly a youth pastor at a nondenominational church whose main pastor has preached against “gender confusion”; he is also a “volunteer chaplain with the United States Army,” where presumably issues about women’s exposure to violence and combat never come up.)One easy way to have avoided the situation would have been for the Northrups to really stand by their beliefs and let high school sports be played by people who go to high school. Out of all the students who attend Linn-Mar, there might be a 112-pounder who would be willing to go to states and wrestle a girl, rather than sticking the team with a default loss.

But entitlement means never having to sacrifice anything. The Northrups were too good or too godly for high school, but they weren’t too good for high school sports, until high school sports turned out to include gender equality, at which point they wanted to drop out again. Once the high school athletic system gave him a suitably male consolation-round opponent, Joel Northrup went back to being a participant.

It’s like the ultra-Orthodox Jewish students who sued Yale in the ’90s because they wanted to go the university but be segregated from the opposite sex. Either turn your back on the sinful world and its rights for women, or don’t. Society isn’t an a la carte menu, and the whole human race is not there to be your waiter. If you want to be a wrestler, wrestle your draw.

Scocca pretends to know Joel Northrup’s family because he can’t wrap his head around the fact that he is a deeply religious adolescent. In Scocca’s mind I suspect, that’s only explainable as a result of indoctrination. Also, it’s important to Scocca that his readers know “The elder Northrup is reportedly a youth pastor at a nondenominational church whose main pastor has preached against ‘gender confusion'”. Guilty by association of politics unacceptable to Scocca in the same way the right ripped Obama for his former pastor’s extremist views.

And who does Northrup think he is opting out of public schooling? In the end, how dare he act on his religious convictions in a way that is antithetical to Scocca’s politics.

Scocca needs to take to heart his last two sentences and Stephen Bates’s brilliant book, Battleground: One Mother’s Crusade, The Religious Right, and the Struggle for Control of our Classrooms. Bates’s book makes it crystal clear that society isn’t an a la carte menu, and the whole human race isn’t there to be Scocca’s waiter.

Scocca, if you want to be a citizen in a pluralist democracy, learn to accept the byproducts of diversity including conservative religious and political behavior.

I’m sure my politics are more closely aligned to Scocca’s than Northrups, but I’m inspired by the fact that Northup had the courage of his conservative religious convictions. The wrap on teenage boys is that all they do is sit around and play video games while girls excel all around them. So forgive me if I find it refreshing that one of those maligned teenaged boys simply and courageously acted on his beliefs when he knew he’d be criticized for it. Scocca is afraid of conservative religious behavior. I’m find apathy far more threatening.

Granted, as the documentary Jesus Camp poignantly illustrated, some young people are indoctrinated by adults. Others simply conform to a strict religious family culture that they’re born into. I understand respectfully challenging those adolescents’ beliefs, but many young people seek spiritual meaning and choose religious practices relatively independently. In particular, journalists and other media continue to demonstrate an utter lack of sophistication by unfairly lumping all of these religious young people together.

Give me a whole generation of Joel Northrups and Ronnie Hasties and I’ll be even more bullish about our future. Hastie was the Tumwater High School junior running back who was penalized for extending his right arm and pointing his index finger upward after scoring a touchdown in a Washington State playoff game last fall (thus delaying the game a few seconds).

“It’s my way of giving glory to God, not to myself,” he explained. “I want to give God the credit.” Someone hold Scocca back.

What was lost in the Hastie story was what happened in the subsequent week. Hastie’s coach explained that Hastie didn’t want to jeopardize the team so he decided to kneel on the sidelines afterwards. “I don’t want to make a big deal out of this,” Hastie said.

And yet, rest assured, many adults will continue to make a big negative deal out of youthful piety.

Suburban Life(r)?

Weekend edition.

I was fortunate to grow up in Midwestern and a Southern Californian suburb. Nice, comfortable homes in safe, well maintained “subdivisions”. Roomy yards with minimal fencing in the Midwest and a small fenced-in pool in SoCal.

As an adult, I’ve chosen a similar path, living in nice, comfortable suburban homes that are logical extensions of the ones I grew up in. Apart from short stints in flats abroad, I’ve spent my whole life in the suburbs.

Makes sense then that I’m growing increasingly ambivalent about life in the burbs. A part of me longs for a radical break and a distinctly different living experience, one either much more urban or one more natural, on water. At times life in the burbs feels like a dissatisfying compromise, monocultural porridge that’s too hot (too far from urban civilization) or too cold (cut off from nature).

I’m really tired of having to drive everywhere all the time. I want to walk and ride my bike to the store, to restaurants, to friends’ places, to theaters.

I want to simplify my life a lot more and I want a smaller home, but save the downsizing medal because ideally, I also want to be able to disappear into a small carriage house or separate apartment. Also, I want a home that takes advantage of as many of the environmental advances builders have made in the last decade as makes sense.

There’s a nice, new condominium building being built downtown, but the GalPal is loathe to give up gardening.

Don’t mistake my longing for a radical break and all of my “I wants” with a lack of appreciation for our home, neighborhood, and neighbors. I’m keenly aware of my privilege and this is not a problem. We’ve grown to like our home and neighbors a lot even if we’re not all that enamored with our hood.

I’m just wondering if the grass might be greener in town or on the water’s edge.

What do you think?

Wisconsin and the Great Ideological Stalemate

Read a provocative anti-union blog post Monday about the Wisconsin state government/public employee tinderbox. And over 100+ of the first comments. I was struck by three things.

First, there’s almost no middle-ground. The vast majority of commenters are attacking the blogger and one other. Is this a uniquely polarizing issue or is the intense debate symbolic of an increasingly divided polity? I’m not sure.

Second, I’m intrigued by the sporadic pro-union commenters who irately announce they’re unsubscribing from the blog. They’re saying to the author I’m so dismayed with your position on this political issue I will no longer be associated with you or read you—nevermind the body of work that prompted them to subscribe in the first place. Some sins are unforgivable. Was there anything worth reflecting on in the anti-union diatribe? Unless you’re insecure in your beliefs, why be threatened by thinking that’s antithetical to your own? At times, all of us “unsubscribe” from the people around us by tuning them out? What does it accomplish besides increased polarization?

Third, far too many high school teachers and college professors teach discrete factual information that’s readily available on smart phones, netbooks, laptops, and desktop computers. Instead, they should use rich content as a means towards an end, the end being a greater appreciation of ambiguity. Given the widening chasm between right and left in this country, young people who learn to value contending viewpoints, think conceptually, and grow comfortable with subtlety, nuance, and ambiguity, will have a distinct competitive advantage in tomorrow’s knowledge economy whether union members or not.

Rethinking National Holidays

Happy President’s day. I resolve to act more presidential than normal today (which means a tiny bit).

Most Euros take a solid three weeks off mid-to-late summer.

Could we benefit from a more European approach to national holidays? What if we give back six of the second through eighth holidays listed below and then add the Friday after Thanksgiving since it’s my favorite holiday and also insert a week-long national holiday where most everything shuts down.

In exchange for sporadic three day weekends, everyone truly goes on some sort of vacation, reconnects with loved ones, and recharges.

If this idea catches on and is ultimately adopted, I expect a national holiday in my honor.

Friday, December 31, 2010* New Year’s Day
Monday, January 17 Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Monday, February 21** Washington’s Birthday
Monday, May 30 Memorial Day
Monday, July 4 Independence Day
Monday, September 5 Labor Day
Monday, October 10 Columbus Day
Friday, November 11 Veterans Day
Thursday, November 24 Thanksgiving Day
Monday, December 26*** Christmas Day

Modern Family

Modern Family is my family’s favorite television show. Only twenty-two minutes in length, it always garners guffaws. When we watch it separately and come back together we ritualistically recite our favorite lines from memory. Even though I’m older than Phil, I want to be him when I grow up.

A recent New York Times columnist’s deconstruction of it wasn’t too terribly illuminating.

I would have expected some slippage by now, but each episode is as tightly written and produced as the previous one. Wonder how many hilarious, heartwarming episodes they have queued up?

Like every hit show I suspect, MF’s success starts with the writing. But its success is also explained by three myths we happily embrace.

Myth one. Interpersonal family conflicts are resolved quickly and simply, mostly within twenty-two minutes. Pilot episode—gay son and his partner don’t feel accepted by the gay son’s dad. Throw in an international adoption, jab him a bit about his old-fashioned homophobia, and acceptance follows. MF provides a fantastical break from the complex, intractable conflicts that shape our lives.

Myth two. The three families live close to one another, enjoy one another’s company, and make time for one another. For most people, the phrase “extended family” is quite literal. Take me for example, my three siblings live in three different states, my mother in a fourth. Their closeness is endearing.

Myth three. Work is unrelated to wealth. This is great news for American viewers for whom fiscal responsibility doesn’t require sacrifice. MF is nearly as work-free an environment as Seinfeld’s apartment. Phil recently showed a house, but the housing correction hasn’t impacted his family’s lifestyle. All three families drive nice cars, live in very nice homes, and very rarely work. Magically, mortgages, car payments, and vacations all get paid for.

And of course for Pacific Northwest viewers like my family and me, the warm and sunny SoCal setting doesn’t hurt either.

School Principal Shortage

The Obama administration wants to improve public education by removing principals from poorly performing schools. Far fewer principals than planned have been replaced because most states are suffering from a shortage of credentialed, able principals.

As a result, Washington State is proposing an alternative routes principal certification plan for non-educators. Yes, for non-educators. One of the first things I learned at the different schools I worked at as a beginning teacher was few of my colleagues respected my principals even though they had taught previously. The majority sentiment was they had lost touch with teaching’s challenges. Adversarial teacher-admin relations were the norm.

How on earth will non-educators earn the respect of teachers? Legions of teachers will exit faculty meetings saying, “What the hell does he/she know about child or adolescent development, about curriculum and assessment, about teaching excellence?”

One wonders, what are the sponsoring state legislators thinking?

A friend of mine is a well respected high school principal. We run together. He tells stories. I listen. Often in amazement. It’s an incredibly demanding job. Impossible if faculty don’t respect you. There are lots of ways for leaders to earn respect, but the main one is to identify closely enough with the people you lead that they conclude, “He/she gets me and gets my work. They understand.” No certification program will compensate for non-educators’ lack of classroom teaching experience; consequently, they will struggle endlessly to earn the respect of their faculty.

But the news isn’t entirely bad. In the interest of fairness, I’m sure teachers will soon have the opportunity to run businesses, work as military officers, head up police departments, pastor churches, or practice law.