My class this morning started out with a disturbing topic and ended with an equally disturbing topic. I felt like a real downer.
Although I teach college English, I try to bring up topics in the news to see if any college students are paying attention. This one, they were aware of because it connects to football. Coach Joe Paterno from the neighboring Big Ten college, Penn State, was fired last night.
My 8 a.m. class was divided. Some thought he should have been fired, others thought he had done what he needed to legally. Students at Penn State are definitely thinking he should have gotten a pass.
Here's the thing, an assistant coach from the past has been indicted for sexual abuse on boys. Even though he retired in 1999, he continued to use Penn State facilities for a program to help underage boys. A student assistant report to Paterno that he had seen this assistant coach sexually assaulting a 10-year-old boy in the showers. Paterno reported this incident to his boss then apparently never thought about it again.
I don't know many people who could shrug that off.
I asked my class, "How many of you would do more if you saw a child being sexually assaulted?" They all raised their hands, yet they're giving Coach Paterno a pass for not taking more action.
"Which is more important," I asked, "football or child sexual abuse?"
When framed that way, who would say football?
Coach Paterno left who knows how many boys at risk? How many boys were sexually assaulted because Paterno did not follow up, did not read the riot act to the (alleged) sick pedophile, did not check up on the boy who was lured to the Penn State showers?
That discussion made us all feel a little queasy, but determined to do the right thing. Then we moved on.
Toward the end of class, we began to discuss an essay related to the Columbine shootings. This essay, a speech given in 1999 shortly after the shootings, blames the shooters' actions on living in a soulless suburbs. We watched some videos, sinking deeper into the hopelessness of that day when students hid under desks while two boys slaughtered them with sawed off shotguns and an automatic weapon. Fifteen people died in that school in a suburb of Colorado. No one in my class agreed with the speech that these two boys massacred people because they were raised in a suburb where everything looked alike. The speech blamed the suburb because it is a soulless place without a past or a future.
And I agree that, even though school shootings seem more likely in an affluent suburb or an isolated town, the place is not to blame. Maybe the thing to blame again is the lifestyle that leads us to suburbia.
People who are trying to survive day to day, making sure their family has food and shelter, don't have time to worry about being angry and planning assaults on their fellow classmates or teachers or bosses.
Living a more comfortable lifestyle is a blessing, but new affluent disorders crop up.
The class kind of sat in stunned silence when we got to the end.
"Go out and do something good today," I said.
They laughed and departed.
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