No Buts

George Floyd’s murder resulted from a depraved heart and a system that tolerates bad policing. It doesn’t matter if he had been resisting arrest earlier. (He had not.) It doesn’t matter if he had been screaming his favorite N.W.A. lyrics. (He had not.) He had given himself up to law enforcement. No form of violent restraint was necessary.

As the spouse of a prosecuting attorney, I appreciate the fact that law enforcement officers put their lives on the line every day. They have to enforce laws nobody likes. They have to deal with drunks and sociopaths, spouse-beaters and spoiled brats. They have to make life-changing judgment calls in a millisecond. Derek Chauvin, the officer who kneeled on Floyd’s neck, had 6 minutes and 46 seconds to reconsider his course of action. He took another two minutes, and it was too late to save Floyd’s life by then.

I cannot turn back the hands of time. I suspect everyone involved in this tragedy wishes that were possible. But I will make this pledge to my students in the hope that the forces that brought the death of George Floyd will be curbed.

  1. I will listen to what you have to say, and find ways to encourage you to think, read, and write analytically and with heart. Start by productively questioning authority.
  2. I will empower you to express yourself with style and efficiency.
  3. I will encourage you to act with integrity, for if you can do that, everything else is easy.

When this chapter of American history gets written, I pray that MSMS students and alumni will be the authors. I also pray that I’ll be on the right side of history. George Floyd’s murderer, and the people who think like him, should not be.

Posted in Education, Ethics, Politics | Leave a comment

Looking Ahead

I realize that this semester isn’t over. We have virtual Honors Convocation on May 14, and virtual graduation nine days later, and something like finals in between. We will also try to bring this year’s juniors and seniors together at some point in July. I’m hoping it will be the tackiest of all tikis!

I suspect that next school year will involve protocols for illness and classroom management that will be quite different from the MSMS norm. How will we deal with health issues and respect the need for students to be in class? How should the school’s sickness policy change? Will students turn in printed papers, quizzes, and tests, or will all submissions be electronic to reduce the likelihood of disease transmission? Will they wear masks to class? How will classes that require physical proximity, like Dramatic Performance or Sculpture, be affected? What steps should we take to prepare for continuous instruction in the event we have to become a virtual school again? How might all these changes prove more challenging for under-represented groups on our campus?

Envisioning the new normal breaks my heart, but only metaphorically. I like physical things. I’ve been conditioned to believe in the importance of handshakes and eye contact. I still have a tough time reading a Zoom class compared to reading a physical class. But a heart that’s broken in metaphor is far better than one that has actually stopped beating.

Posted in Education | 4 Comments

“O”-revoir

Last week’s announcement that MSMS classes would be conducted remotely came as no surprise. Anybody who reads headlines could see it coming. Yet knowing a fact between the ears differs greatly from feeling its greater truths in your heart. That awareness became more profound when I thought about the pending retirement of Dr. Bill Odom from the biology department.

O and I share interests in many things: good coffee, which I have enjoyed stealing from him for 15 years; card games of all sorts; fishing; New Orleans and the New Orleans Saints; finding the best king cakes; playing ultimate frisbee; trying to think about things as students do; attempting to understand the implications of administrative and political decisions on the mission of the school; appreciating the need to have a safe space to vent. We’ll continue sharing these interests, of course. But it’ll be slightly less satisfying doing so over the phone instead of a cup of his coffee.

If you have an Odom anecdote you’d like to share, feel free to do so here. I’ll direct his attention to the page later on.

Posted in Education | 4 Comments

The Real King

If I were to grant you access to my Spotify likes, you’d see a list as esoteric and unpredictable as the wind. Sure, I have some songs on heavy rotation. I can listen to blues and jazz and Americana all day long and be happy. I can listen to Faure and Mozart and Brahms and enjoy every second. The same goes for Stephen Sondheim and Rogers and Hammerstein. I’ll sing along when I can, and hum when I can’t.

I rediscovered an 80s film on Netflix this weekend: Prince’s Purple Rain. The acting is terrible. The plotline is thin.

But the music, y’all, the music. I triple dog dare you to find a musician whose absolute command of craft even approaches Prince’s. He played at least 27 instruments to perfection. He wrote a song a day. He had a vocal range that could make Ms. Barham weep.

Fiona Apple may have just released a tremendous new album. That’s one album.

People from Mississippi may think that Elvis was King. (In that genre of music, I’d vote for Jerry Lee Lewis, but that’s a story for another day.)

People who only listen to the radio may think that Michael Jackson was King. (He was unfit to carry Prince’s guitar case.)

Prince Rogers Nelson was the one and only King.

Posted in Music | 1 Comment

C-19 Soundtrack

All of us have songs in heavy rotation right now. Some of them might actually imply the need for social distancing. Let’s find some of those!

Consider these for starters:

“A Fine Romance with No Kisses”? Perfect social distancing theme!
Posted in Arts | 11 Comments

Two Weeks In

Well, Dear Bloggers, I had hoped that when we returned from Spring Break we would be able to debate substantive issues: Chacos or Birkenstocks? Boogie board or raft? Real book or Kindle?

However, fate has intervened. The pandemic we discussed earlier has gotten worse, and will continue to get worse, especially in Mississippi. The wealthy here have always believedĀ themselves to be invulnerable; the poor, through Calvinism, have believed their fates to be preordained; both groups have a streak of oppositional defiance about a mile wide. Whatever the state of our medical preparedness may be, psychologically, Mississippians are poorly equipped to deal with containing this virus. We’ll need lots of re-education. It may be years before I can greet somebody without thinking of a handshake as the appropriate opening.

As you look at how events have unfolded in the past month, how do you assess the state’s leaders when it comes to dealing with the spread of the virus? Have they consistently in the state’s best interest? What have they done well? What needs to improve?

Posted in Ethics, Politics | 10 Comments

What Happens Next?

Thanks to emails from admin, you already know what’s coming next: a week to practice social distancing before diving into several interesting, intense, and electric MSMS classrooms. Who knows? Maybe there will even be a Weekly Wednesday Doorprize for some lucky contestant whose name gets “drawn” by my wife’s chihuahua. (I imagine he can be taught to push a random square on the Zoom screen.)

Yes, the content delivery will be different. What was ideal for one of my classrooms can’t be ideal again until some undetermined point in the future. But what we do on Canvas and Zoom will be engaging and worth our time. Email me if you have questions or concerns, or if you just need to vent. I’ll be revising the syllabus, figuring out how to get the most out of what we have to work with, and looking forward to spending time with you in the near future.

Posted in Education, Ethics | 1 Comment

Hype Machine

Walkout songs–the songs that play while hitters strut from the on-deck circle to the plate–have become part of the entertainment value of baseball. Even pitchers have gotten into the act. They’re having songs piped in while they make it from the bullpen to the mound.

In honor of baseball: imagine the walkout songs faculty members would play as they went into the classroom at the beginning of the day–or, if you prefer, what’s on the top of your playlist in the closing seconds before a midterm.

Posted in Arts | 16 Comments

Dealing with Pandemics

I don’t exactly feel confident in the federal government’s response to the coronavirus. It’s hard to have faith in administration that eliminated funding to the CDC’s Pandemic Response Team in 2018 as a cost-cutting measure. Placing faith in Vice-President Mike Pence to lead the fight against the virus causes shudders of disbelief as well: Pence’s policies as governor of Indiana resulted in an increase of HIV cases, and as late as 2000, as a Congressman, Pence wrote an op-ed that expressed doubts about the risks associated with smoking. You can’t merely pray a virus away.

Both of these men consistently express disdain for science, especially when data demands a conclusion they don’t like. Thinking about the issue has prompted several closer-to-home questions. To what degree do you think COVID-19 will affect Mississippi? Given the fact that MSMS students live in all parts of the state, is our school particularly susceptible to exposure? What policies and procedures should MSMS put in place for dealing with it?

Posted in National Politics, Politics, Science | 23 Comments

Debate Winners

Last night’s Democratic debate offered a brutal mix of politics and Celebrity Deathmatch. Most pundits agree that Warren scored the most talking points, but that she didn’t do enough to leapfrog Sanders in the polls. Her most frequent victim, Michael Bloomberg, got in a few zingers of his own, but his performance did little to resolve questions I have about the wisdom of jumping into the race so belatedly. The other progressive front runner, Bernie Sanders, did even less to dispel my fears that he’s a doctrinal megalomaniac. He avoids facts as assiduously as our current president, who was the actual winner of the debate because the Democratic candidates were so busy tearing each other down.

As I predicted would happen on the blog almost a month ago, moderators raised the issue of fracking in Rust Belt states. Warren, Sanders, and Biden indicated that they would end fracking immediately–revealing a willingness to write off crucial states to Trump because they refuse to compromise on issues that are important to them. Ladies and gentlemen, politics is the art of compromise. I’ve come to believe that none of those candidates can win an election against the current president as a result. The more important issue for Democrats becomes finding a competent bureaucrat who can win the primary.

“Competent bureaucrat” may not sound sexy, but after four years of a president who ignores Congress and enjoys shredding diplomatic protocols, that’s exactly what the country needs.

Posted in National Politics | 10 Comments