Sunday, November 13, 2011

Breaking my Silence

I really go hot and cold with this blogging thing, don't I?

The scandal at Penn State is what compels me to break my silence. The tragedy of 9/11 filled me with rage; this new tragedy simply leaves me profoundly sad. In fact, I cannot remember a news story that has sorrowed me as much as this one.

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I've spent most of the last week looking at op-ed pieces, hoping some columnist somewhere in America could articulate something that would help me see some perspective on the scandal. The one that came closest appeared in yesterday's Philadelphia Daily News. In it, John Baer levels a powerful indictment of the political and cultural forces that can let something like that tragedy take place. It's worth reading.

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I spent much time listening to WIP this week, which was a departure for me (It's Russian nuclear winter for the Philly sports fan and I've been listening to lots of podcasts of more high-falutin' stuff instead). The type of call that most troubled me for some reason were the callers second-guessing Matt McQueary's actions. Please understand that I wish with all my heart he had called police at the time he allegedly witnessed one of Sandusky's heinous acts. Yet many callers bragged that had it been them they would have stepped right in. I wish I knew they were right.

We have people in our society who rush into burning buildings, who brave enemy fire, who commit acts of outstanding bravery. But many of those people are soldiers and Marines, firefighters and police officers who benefit from rigorous training and an extraordinary calling to serve.

How many of us, if we were in McQueary's shoes, would've rushed right in . . . when we saw the father of a friend doing something unthinkably hideous, in the insulated town we had always called home, in or near the house that Joe built . . . and then when we went to that most powerful figure (Paterno) to report the incident, wouldn't we think that had to be sufficient. I hope we would have the courage to act aggressively right then, but I doubt how many of us would.

Still, calling the police seems more than prudent. And it saddens me Matt didn't.

Matt's possible indecisiveness or inaction humbles me because it makes me think back on times when I didn't speak up loudly or forcefully enough at ugliness. Thankfully I've never stumbled upon an evil as egregious as Matt did (There but for the grace of God go I), but I can think of moments when I didn't do enough.

One other thing: I'm troubled that when Matt McQueary turned to his father for advice, his father gave him bad advice. I feel some measure of sympathy for Matt's situation: he had just witnessed something hideous and extraordinarily unexpected. He was confused. He asked his dad for guidance. His dad didn't suggest going to the police, but instead to go to Joe. Even when my children are nearing 30, as Matt was at the time of the incident, my role as a father might still include orienting my kids when they need some help interpreting their moral compass. I hope that if Sam or Caroline ever needs my guidance like Matt did that day that I can give a better answer than that father did. It saddens me that he didn't.

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So I did bring up the scandal in my classes. Somewhat difficult to see where kids were on this, for many of them are really at a transitional point in moral reasoning. Still, it's a conversation a teacher should have with students. But in my one class's conversation a girl admitted to not knowing much of anything about the scandal. A classmate quickly (in a sidebar I could hear) clarified to her what happened by telling her that the coach was "blasting" a boy.

Blasting?! My word, there is a word for this?

I don't begrudge the student for saying it. Given the circumstances (I know the kids well) I see no maliciousness on her part. She was simply using the vernacular to help a classmate know what's going on.

My shock is that teens have a word for the violation Sandusky was creating. Have we, as a culture, failed if we have so desensitized sexual violence that there's a word kids can immediately recognize for what crime that man was doing?

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