Here in Haywood County, NC there were two High Schools when I was growing up. They were of the exact same design, having been commissioned by the school board in the mid 1960s to replace the previous High Schools that were reaching the point of overcrowding. The two High Schools were designated Tuscola and Pisgah–and living in the West of Haywood County, my brothers and I were bound toward Tuscola.
In spite of the fact that both High Schools were practically the same, the fact that the kids from both the West and East sides of the county were in all respects the same, one day my older brother came home from school singing a new “fight song” he’d learned at that week’s pep rally:
“On the banks of Pigeon River, in a field of rye; stands an old deserted outhouse, known as Pisgah High.”
This was nothing new. Every since I’d started public schools I’d been taught this rivalry between the two sides of the county. It’s just how things were.
So when the YMCA in Canton, NC offered to let kids from Hazelwood Elementary School (a feeder to Tuscola High) visit their facilities, all the arrangements were made. We got permission from our parents, and after school one day we all loaded on a special bus that would take us over to “The Y”.
Along the way we had to make a stop at the Clyde Elementary School (a feeder for Pisgah High) to pick up more kids. None of us knew this was going to happen ahead of time, and so, being kids, we threw a fit. For something like ten minutes we chanted: “We want our own bus! We want our own bus!”
You know, making the Clyde kids feel as welcome as an open sewer pipe.
Eventually some school administrator (probably the principal) came out and told us that we would indeed be getting our own bus, not because of our protest, but because we were incredibly rude and insensitive.
And he was right to say so. Good for him.
But considering the fact that other school officials were spending an hour or so every week trying to whip our older brothers and sisters into a frenzy when it came to Football games, Basketball games, and various other sports wherein kids from Tuscola (and their feeder schools) were called to deride kids from Pisgah (et al.)–should he have been surprised?
By the time I got to Tuscola I had long sense been indoctrinated into the idea that we were “Tuscola Mountaineers” and in every way superior to the “Pisgah Bears”. Weekly we were herded into the gymnasium and treated to entertainments such as hanging Teddy Bears in effigy.
Once a wrecked car was provided by the local junk yard. This car was painted in the colors of our rival school and left for display on the edge of the student parking lot for a week or so. On the Friday evening before the big game students stayed after classes to beat this car with baseball bats, it was then doused with gasoline, set afire, and then when it had cooled–was pushed off the precipice that formed the edge of the student parking area.
I’m sorry, but was this supposed to be healthy behavior?
If, in the name of “school spirit” we were being taught that we shouldn’t even have any respect for kids–whose only crime, it seemed, was living fifteen miles East of us–should the teachers, administrators, and school board be surprised when we acted like animals to those in our own ranks?
I tried to keep a more open mind than many. Having been more often bullied than bully myself, I felt shy around such crowds and so was relieved that my parents were usually unwilling for me to participate in such after school activities as car burnings.
Yet the problem ran very deep. When a girl or boy in our class would admit to dating someone from Pisgah–you could practically feel the air being sucked out of the room. The feeling was not so much “How DARE they?” but rather “How did they dare?” There was both a sense of dread and awe for any classmate that would do such a thing.
Now, admittedly that was the 1970s. Things have supposedly changed. But I wouldn’t count on it.
Kids still do a lot of what their older siblings demonstrate to them. They also fall in line with a lot of what they’re taught by school officials–whether those things are right or wrong.
So, once again I submit to you that public school administrators, teachers, coaches, etc. should be held to a much higher standard than what I believe they are–generally speaking. Admittedly, being involved in public education is hard work. I don’t envy anyone in those jobs.
But seriously? Come on–hanging Teddy Bears in effigy? Bashing and burning cars in the name of Football?
No wonder team sports has such a bad reputation.
I’m in favor of team sports as a concept. They can be the foundation of a good physical education program at any school. Such programs can teach children to take care of their health and well being by vigorous exercise, and build character, self-esteem, and teach teamwork.
But I think we may be getting the cart before the horse when we let the Sports programs drive Physical Education programs.
I know we’re getting the cart before the horse when we whip kids into a frenzy in the name of “school spirit”.
I suspect that some people are reading this and thinking: “Well, that sort of thing wouldn’t happen if OUR party was in charge of things.” Or worse: “That sort of thing doesn’t happen now that OUR party IS in charge of things.”
This problem is not solved by politics.
The solution (or part of it) lies in personal responsibility. Each person must constantly examine himself (or herself) to see if he is doing something that is misleading other people–children especially. And each individual should also be responsible to the authority that he is under. If a coach, teacher or administrator should be called to account for a bad action on their part, the first reaction should not be, “How can I protest being censured?” Rather, it should be, “How can I fix this?”