Notes from the Perimeter

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Reverse the Curse

Why do they hate us? The Football Gods (TFGs), I mean. They seem to have a malign and perverse interest in knees and in yesterday’s TexMess smote yet another brilliant player with their evil touch. Oh, Wes, say it ain’t so!

Last week I mentioned significant injury as worst-case scenario, and that nearly happened. Welker, considered by many to be the Pats’ season MVP and a key to playoff success, much less that elusive fourth Super Bowl win, is a huge loss, irreplaceable despite the apparent channeling of WR Julian Edelman who had 10 carries for over 100 yards.

Why do I contend that Welker’s injury is nearly worst-case? Two words: Darryl Stingley. Welker’s accident, possibly the result of a cleat tangle with the stadium turf, did not leave him paralyzed. It might have ended his season but if there is justice in this world, it won’t end his career. It was not, as in the case of Jack Tatum’s assault on Stingley, tainted by the reprehensible suspicion of malicious intent (except perhaps from TFGs). Tatum’s churlish behavior in the aftermath of Stingley’s devastating injury – he never apologized, never visited, never called (whoa, that sounds like a relationship) – only fuels the flames of blame.

So, what now? The odds, already dubious, are set against them. The Pats rolled into Reliant Stadium on, well, a roll: peaking at the perfect time, a playoff berth guaranteed, the game meaningless except for keeping everybody sharp. Instead TFGs landed a stunning blow. The mettle of this season’s team is about to be tested like never before. The story waits to be written.

Every heroic tale has its dark before the dawn. Every hero faces the worst kind of setback before stumbling to his feat and pulling off a miracle. The sidelining of Welker is dreadful and demoralizing but it doesn’t have to be fatal.

Perhaps it’s not likely that one or more of the players will find a way to transcend their own limitations and truly step up – when that scenario plays out on the heroic stage it never is the likely thing. But when, oh so rarely, it does happen it’s the stuff of legend. In local lore, it’s Kurt Schilling’s bloody sock. Would that 2004 World Championship, as great as it was, been the mythic event it became had the Sox, just days earlier, not stared into the abyss?

So I say, let’s reverse TFG’s curse. Let’s face the darkness with courage and resolve and dare the abyss to look back. Let’s have the audacity to still seek the Ring -- in spite of, or maybe even because of, the nearly impossible odds. I challenge this team to show us all that football, like any noble quest, can be so much more than a game.
--first published on

Willful Ignorance: Should Students Be Allowed to Choose What Not to Study?

Jack Summers, a Newton, MA, tenth-grader, might not know everything but he definitely knows what he doesn’t want to know. Jack, a self-proclaimed atheist, objected to an assignment in his mandatory English class: to read a section of the Bible as an example of literature. Initially school administrators baulked; eventually, as one of the local papers described, they ‘caved’ and while Jack still was forced to read the Bible assignment (meaning, presumably, that he would have failed the class otherwise) he was exempted from taking two related quizzes and completing a paper about the reading. (Of course, the first thing that comes to my mind is: how do we know that Jack did indeed read the assigned portion of the Bible? Did the atheist code of conduct prevent him from simply saying he’d done so since he was not required to demonstrate any knowledge or reflection?)

A further oddity (in my mind) is that Jack’s mother, Majorie Summers, in supporting her son, questioned in a letter to the editor why her son wasn’t given the chance (apparently the original accommodation) to read a secularized summary of the Biblical passage and respond to that: “Jack did indeed have to read the Bible after the school failed to provide him with a secular analysis of the biblical assignments, as had been agreed at our meeting with the Newton South team. We were also surprised when Jack was told by his teacher that his two quiz grades would be dropped, instead of retaken after a review of the secular material.”

The assignment was to explore the Bible as a piece of literature. Is Summers advocating a sort of Cliff Notes of the Bible, in which all of its literary qualities, everything that makes it literature – use of language and imagery, rhythm, poetic construction, character description, narrative power – are eliminated and only the religious message remain? Isn’t that exactly what the Summerses say they want to avoid?

It’s far too simplistic to deny that we choose every day what we want to learn and what we (regrettably or with relief) forgo. While some new learning is mandatory (revised procedures at work, changes in the tax code, relevant current events, etc.) much is discretionary due to the fact that we can process only so much information at any given time. In my case, the list of languages unexamined, places unvisited, software uninstalled, books unread, disciplines unexplored is full to overflowing. The only reason I can think of for wanting to prolong my lifespan is so that I’ll have time to learn Italian and the techniques of Chinese cooking. However, this incident brings up a larger question: What does it mean, especially for a kid, to choose willful ignorance about something with the kind of historical and cultural impact as the Bible?

The United States Supreme Court ruled in 1963, in the case of School District of Abington Township v. Schempp, that schools can include the Bible and other religious texts as examples of literature and in cultural studies – they just cannot use those works in a religious context, for proselytizing or promoting a particular religious viewpoint. The decision reads in part: “[It] might well be said that one's education is not complete without a study of comparative religion or the history of religion and its relationship to the advancement of civilization. It certainly may be said that the Bible is worthy of study for its literary and historic qualities…as part of a secular program of education.”

A few of Jack’s comments about his position are unintentionally funny. In an interview with the press, he referred to the Bible as “the word of God” and a “holy text.” I fear that Jack hasn’t quite grasped the concept of atheism – simply put, an atheist does not believe in the existence of deities. Clearly Jack does believe that God and holiness exist – he just doesn’t want to be confronted with them.

Herein, for me lies the rub: the fear that new knowledge, especially knowledge that might challenge comfortable assumptions or beliefs, is somehow contagious, able to transform attitudes against the person’s will. Debates about such diverse subjects as evolution, climate change and homosexuality often have this fear as subtext: if I learn about Judaism, I might change my mind about it – OMG!

The most fundamental point of education is to provide the framework for more choices, not fewer. The central premise of education is that knowledge expands and frees, not constricts and restricts.

It’s fully appropriate that no religious text – the Bible, the Qu’ran, the Bhagavad Gita nor any other – be taught in a public school as religious ‘truth.’ However, for students to explore these masterworks as literature, as hallmarks of culture, as intrinsic aspects of the development of civilization is not only a good idea: it’s a necessary one. And if in the process, a student discovers something that feels truthful, then that becomes a choice for that student to make, a choice that a willful stance of ignorance can’t offer.

first published on 12-20-09 on


Some of the following posts will be reprints from my Care2 education blog and my Patriots football blog. I'll also be posting new political blogs. Hope you keep reading and commenting!