I have a bit of a routine in the morning, as I'm sure most of you do. Mine involves showering, shaving, robing, eating, Metamucilling, driving, Starbucksing, daily constitutioning, desk-settling and, finally, New York Times editorials-reading. I don't read them because they inform me of what's happening in the world - I read them because they humor me. If you've read them consistently for as long as I have (which is to say maybe two or three years), you don't really notice the interesting points that the columnists are making; rather, something happens during your long acquaintance whereby you become aware only of the individual writers' faults, their huge lapses of logic, and their increasing belief in their own infallibility. Of course, these deficiences aren't unique to the columnists at the New York Times - to be an editorialist of any kind requires a certain section of your mind to be either intentionally ignored or surgically removed; otherwise you would make sense and that would be boring.
After some time, you begin to expect certain things from the columnists: when reading Maureen Dowd, I expect to be condescended to, and I expect it to be in the form of some sort of odd satire. When reading Nicholas Kristof, I expect the cockles of my heart to be touched, I expect my sympathy to be elicited, and I expect it to be about some world disaster I haven't yet heard about and wish I never had. When reading David Brooks, I expect to be told how liberals view a current issue, how conservatives view it differently, how both are sort of right and both are sort of wrong, and then I expect to be told why Brooks is right above all. When reading Bob Herbert...well, let's be honest. I can't read Bob Herbert. The guy brings me the fuck down. He's such a buzzkill. Everything is fucking doomsday with him. Now, when I read Thomas Friedman - and here I've got to be honest, I love Thomas Friedman - I expect to be uplifted, invigorated, refreshed, and made to see the world anew. Thomas Friedman has got to be the most unflichingly optimistic, gullible, apologetic, understanding, patient, and senseless journalist out there. He also muddles every one of his points with mislaid metaphors and overconvoluted comparisons. When I read Friedman, I expect an awful situation to be viewed through the magic prism of his "everything's all right" eye, I expect world leaders to be given a pass, and finally I expect him to state that the Indians (dots not feathers) and the Chinee work harder than Americans and in five years will have taken all of our jobs.
But why should I write such an excessively long introduction to what is, below, the true meat of my post? Because friends, as luck would have it, last night as I perused the microfiche at my local library (don't ask - I'll only say that I'm in the process of solving one of the country's great cold cases from the 19th century), I ran across one of Friedman's earliest columns, written back when he was a young writer for his high school's weekly publication, "The Garfield High Gazette". This is a miraculous find and I doubt you'll find it elsewhere on the internet. It is reprinted in full.
I THINK TOMORROW IS GOING TO BE DIFFERENT, IN A GOOD WAY, FROM TODAY
By Thomas Friedman, Class of '68
There was an explosion, a crashing of silver on tile, an upturned tray and a splattering of applesauce, followed by a cold silence that was as heavy as a stormcloud before a great downpour. Only today there would be no rain. Instead, today was just another day of terror and despair inside the cafeteria of Garfield Hall, where jocks and preps continue to harass and beleaguer hippies, stoners, and geeks.
The future of the integrity and cohesiveness of our beloved school depends upon open communication between both the quarterback of the football team and the captain of the Mathletes. If the two don't speak to each other, our school edges closer to the precipice of total cliquedom. If, on the other hand, they manage to engage in open conversation and resolve their differences, basketball players could soon be toking up with the Deadheads, and the debate team could argue the finer points of a great backfield pass. Why won't this happen? Because it's too hard to let go of our long-held stereotypes and see others for who they really are: people just like us.
With this thought in mind, I headed to Principal Stern's office to see how different groups of students have approached and interacted with each other throughout the history of Garfield High. "At a time in a person's life when they are adapting to the world, it is only natural to work through certain insecurities by assembling in homogenous groups," he said. "Those groups that have members of greater strength, popularity, and wealth tend to pick on and intimidate students who are not as unfortunate. It's not fair and it's not right, but it is how the real world operates and I think that's important to note."
So what Principal Stern was saying is that there is a precedent for such action. But doesn't it state in our country's Bill of Rights that all men are created equally? How can we temper our natural urge to form cliques and subgroups with our responsibility to strive for an egalitarian society?
Later that day I got to thinking about ways in which different cliques can interact better within the hallowed halls of Garfield High. Our student body leaders have made decisions that have led to an increasing level of divisiveness at our school, like choosing to install the new soda drink machine by the gymnasium and lockers, thus favoring the jocks, and not in a centrally located area like the school's performance auditorium or library. Also, we see them often asking boosters for money to help fund athletic causes or to help build the floats for the homecoming parade, but rarely does the student council get involved in academic causes. The student council should work harder on being the rubber band that holds this school together, and not the rubber ball that bounces things off of it.
Would it be too difficult to hold a pep-rally for our marching band's upcoming performance at the state competition? Or perhaps a "Vegetable and Bake Sale" day in which our school's farmers could not only show the other students the "fruits" of their and their families' labors, but make a few dimes and quarters on top of that?
One only has to look as far as Roosevelt High in neighboring Elkins County to see the benifits of having a forward-thinking student council. Not only do they have school-sponsored days recognizing future engineers ("Math Makes Things Work Day"), they also organize large groups of students to attend away wrestling matches and pick-up games of softball on the school's large recreational diamond.
Riding the bus into school this morning, I wondered to myself: What if the student council and the administration begin actively promoting "cross-pollination" of student groups - like asking the basketball team to watch the battle of the bands, or encouraging the Bible Quiz kids to challenge the track team to a game of chess (officiated by our school's excellent Chess Team)? At the very least, these sorts of measures could help our school become more unified and less hostile. We'd see less upturned trays in the cafeteria and more school spirit - a lot more school spirit.
So what do you say, Principal Stern? What do you think, elected student representatives? If we don't start thinking about these problems today, Garfield High won't be able to progress athletically or academically - and all those scholarships to U of M and Carleton will be going to the supportive and cohesive students of Roosevelt, not Garfield.
I encourage everyone to let the storm clouds pass, to be a rubber band and not a rubber ball, and hopefully we won't get wet from the rainstorm that is fast approaching.