The Southern Way…
…Out Of Our National Dilemma
Over a career of public service from middle school teacher to professor with a bunch of stops along the way in many states, as a coach and administrator at many levels, I have always had the pleasure of seeing just how kind and friendly people’s essential souls are. I believed, contrary to my Baptist teaching and preaching, that people are basically good. And that was how I developed my classroom rules. As a beginning high school teacher, I had just one classroom rule: be courteous to each other.
It worked for nine years as a high school teacher. Oh, I might have sent a kid to the office for fighting in the hallways. I cannot remember sending one from my classroom. The be courteous to each other took a minor hit in my one year as a middle school teacher. I did not abandon it. Kids, who are expected to misbehave usually do, and I had a bunch of those kids as this was my first year at this school, and they had adapted to my expectations as all kids do.
My rule and I rebounded the following year, my first, as a school assistant principal. I disciplined kids sent to me from classrooms and a goodly group that I caught breaking school rules. I figure that over my five years at Baker High School in Mobile as an AP, I also must have paddled a hundred, and suspended twice as many, and had a few arrested—most for weed. However, I did my best to allow every child to leave my office with his or her self-esteem intact. I had the largest bass I have ever caught—an 8+ pounder—mounted on my back wall. It was amazing how many times that big ol’ mama bass gave those kids something to make casual conversation about on their way out of my office. Most kids, I just counseled about how to stay out of trouble the next time. I didn’t call the parents every time either. Seemed to me that the kids needed a chance to get things right before I chatted with mom or dad.
A school leader at multiple levels, just being courteous to each other, was put to the test working with adults, but not so much with the kids!
My philosophy was tested at every level. People—children and adults (teachers and parents)—often chose to be unhappy with their choices or with mine. During my early working years, I learned of a saying by Abe Lincoln. His wisdom was a significant human relations epiphany that would help me understand the folks who seemed to be in a constant state of unhappiness, misery, and discontent for the rest of my years in the education profession at every level.
During my first year as the principal of Benjamin Russell High School—a multicultural school in the textile town of Alexander City, home of Russell Corporation—I found that frequently my faculty did not agree with my decisions. The last principal had lasted one year. They most frequently let it be known with notes on the bulletin board in the teacher’s lounge. No email in those days!
In those days (before Abe Lincoln’s wisdom), I would go home some two miles from school feeling like piranhas had been taking bites out of me all day long. It did not happen every day, but it happened often enough. I held no grudges against any of my staff. Hell, I didn’t know them well enough to have anything against them! I resolved not to make any significant changes during my first year unless a behavior was illegal, unethical, immoral, or unprofessional.
There were only a few. A coach used his planning period to get in his daily run uptown in his oh-too-short running shorts. A teacher bought groceries during planning less buying groceries after school interfere with her teatime. Writing lesson plans according to accepted instructional practices did not cause much happiness. There were also a few folks who weren’t happy when I decided to do away with paddling high school kids and chose a much more maddening discipline (to teenagers) of keeping them in detention even if they worked or played sports.
I was really disappointed that teacher conversations stopped immediately when I stopped by the teacher’s lounge on the way back to my office. Talk about the cold shoulder! What all those folks did not know was that I was mentored as an assistant principal by Kaye Brown, the first female high school in Mobile County. And Kaye knew a thing or two about piranhas and taught me a thing or two about how important is the lesson to a principal of staying the course when that course is the right one.
During that year—likely fishing by myself—it occurred to me that I lived happily in a home with only three other people, and one of them was likely aggravated at me most of the time.
Leaders—if they are on the right path toward quality of service and products in whatever they are producing or selling or servicing—will have people who complain—and often at length.
However, once I came to that serendipitous epiphany, I quit worrying about who might be fuming. It helped me realize that I would never make everyone happy—because that was not my job as a parent or a principal. My job was to lead—to make things better even, and especially if most folks thought the status quo was acceptable.
But the most important lesson I learned about human nature and contentment and pleasure came from a quote from Abraham Lincoln. President Lincoln was asked by a reporter—hoping to catch him in a poorly chosen remark—”What is your opinion makes people happy?”
Lincoln replied quickly as he often did, “Well, it seems to me that people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.”
The lesson I learned from Abe was that happiness, motivation, and morale are primarily functions of each person’s internal compass and, only slightly affected by outside influencers.
At this point in this essay, I expect you are asking, “So where does he go now?”
We are going (I trust you will go with me) right up to the present day and the presumptions of white privilege made by some supposedly intelligent people who ought to know better but clearly do not—first, a couple of stories. You knew more of those were coming, didn’t you?!
As fate (and perhaps the Almighty) would have it, the most time I spent in a single position in my career was as a professor. After five years and the title of tenured professor was bestowed upon me, I spent a little time in the ivory tower of academe—that’s how the folks who live there permanently refer to the experience and the institution that put them there.
On a few short trips and stop-offs upward on the tower’s elevator, I observed numbers of tower-dwellers losing their ability to think independently and giving in to the unenlightened dogmas—of deans, provosts, chancellors, and others.
A SIDE NOTE: I have observed that university students only learn at a higher level if the professors can actually relate their tiny professorial research agendas to the real world from which their students have come and will return. A SAD NOTE: a few true-believer-students are sacrificed yearly to the tower to keep the whole thing from crumbling in on itself.
After I realized that academe’s ultra-liberal agents were subtly and slowly coming for me, too, I stayed in the lower reaches of the tower. There, having my tenure, I could spend almost all of my time teaching my real-world students real-world knowledge that they could apply as real-world school leaders. However, once I made that decision as my focus, I began to contact the dark side of academics toward the end of my career. We had two folks in our Department of Educational Leadership who, regardless of the name of the course they were teaching, taught that white privilege was the source of the world’s ills, especially education.
About this same time, I was appointed Director of the Doctoral Program in Educational Leadership in our Department. Our EDD processes were in such a mess. It was miraculous that anyone actually made their way through our convoluted processes—a few of them written—most of them in the collective knowledge of our oldest department members. There was no handbook given to every doctoral student with a clearly laid out path to the EdD. I think the students were expected to find out the processes by divine intervention.
I worked to get these things in order and to define once and for all the program of studies for our students (and our professors). However, the two professors professing that all of America’s (or was it mankind’s) problems were from white privilege raised their voices. They insisted that a course be included for EVERY student on abandoning being white and assuming the proper role and position (prostrate) of guilt-bearers for the sins that came before us and all that shall come henceforth.
We didn’t vote for their suggestion, and of course, I was a racist.
We got a new Dean of the College of Education and a “sister of the ivory,” who had made her chops on the proposition that diversity of professorial talent alone was the key to quality and excellence in a college of education. She quickly began slyly to indoctrinate the college that we (except for professors of color) were in our lofty positions because, and only because of white privilege. With that bit of dogma planted in meetings across the college, she brought in an expert-of-color to teach every member in the college that we were of heart and mind and bone and sinew, racists and white supremacists. I assume that being a Dean, she believed that she could command attendance by all staff members to attend.
But now holding Associated Professor Tenure and being a natural-born contrarian, I chose not to attend, but must most folks did. I was very confident in my knowledge that my parents not raised me to be racist. Also, given my family’s financial stature over the years, I sure as hell knew I was not where I was because of white privilege.
I responded in writing to the Dean’s invitation, explaining why I would not be attending. I explained that I was not nor ever had been a racist or a white supremacist, and therefore, I had no need to meet. She responded that I missed her point—all white folks are racist—especially those who do not know it—because of white privilege.
I related to her a story—a conversation of sorts was in an email—that I had come to love Charlotte as perhaps the nicest city where we had ever lived or worked and that it was because of the positive relations between people of diverse backgrounds.
I wrote her, “I have found that it is not unusual in Charlotte to be standing in a checkout line at Food Lion and have a person of another race just start a conversation with me over the weather, the Panthers, or life in the Carolinas in general.”
The Dean responded, and I quote: “That is because you were experiencing white privilege.”
WTF. Sorry. That is nicer than the HOLY SHIT I wanted to write.
Damn. And I had been thinking all this time that it was because two adults standing in line at Food Lion were being friendly and had courteously accepted each other as valuable members of the human race, each deserving of respect, politeness, civility, and gentility.
One might think, a few might dearly hope, that the Dean had set me straight and expected me to attend the remaining daylong session by the expert-of-color. She expected it. I didn’t attend.
The people I have known all my life—from rural Wilmer to the medium-sized city of Mobile to the small mill-town of Alexander City, Alabama to the large and urban city of Louisville to rural Owensboro, Kentucky, to very rural Haubstadt, Indiana, to large-city Charlotte and finally to the small town of Cornelius, North Carolina—have abhorred prejudice, intolerance, and bigotry especially when its source was ignorance and especially arrogance.
I am not ignorant of evil or the Evil One or the evil-others who work on his behalf. To ignore such a presence as evil is the depth of ignorance. Prejudice is evil. Unearned privilege assumed as legitimate is evil. Slavery was the Evil One’s most pusillanimous achievement. Think of the craftiness of evil’s ability to convince a few otherwise reasonable people that slavery was just the way the world had always been. That vile argument continues today in myriad forms.
Narrowmindedness that will not listen to another human being’s viewpoint just because that view is different is undoubtedly an evil tool. Remarkably, that same narrowmindedness that produces prejudice, intolerance, and bigotry in evil patches of American soil is now spreading is a widely promulgated propaganda agenda as the accepted mantra of the far left.
Is not any unquestioned and mantra evil precisely because it has not been allowed to be questioned? Trump did it repeatedly and to evil ends. The far-left simply are f0llowing in his well-trod path. Such logic can only lead to two evils forces in two administrations, and as our mamas taught us long ago, two wrongs do not make a right.
A frequent mantra of the ultra-left is that white privilege and racism are endemic among Anglo-Saxons. Interestingly most of those liberals I know and observe can legitimately claim privilege—white or otherwise—as the source of their finances.
There is an old saying about my rural land-grant Auburn University: “Auburn is no Harvard, Yale, or Alabama—thank the Almighty for small favors!”
I will take hard work over privilege every day.
Is there an answer to this agenda that we of the Anglo-Saxon persuasion must prostrate ourselves to the god of liberal fanaticism? I think there is.
After my wife, Sandy and I, had gotten our second COVID injection, we ventured up to our favorite local coffee shop, The Water Bean. It is owned by a Vietnamese-American who had an idea that coffee made in the Vietnamese fashion would be an excellent addition to the Cornelius coffee scene. Was he ever correct! I went in, ordered two coffees in porcelain cups, and started on my way outside to the table where Sandy sat. Not being particularly fleet-of-foot lately, I managed to spill about a quarter cup into one of the saucers. I successfully navigated my way to the table where my wife sat, awaiting her cup. When I sat down, a black lady customer who had been leaving came up almost immediately with a handful of napkins and said with a smile in her voice, “I thought you might need these!”
White privilege? Nope. Just being nice and courteous—The Charlotte way.
Last week we took a week’s vacation to Alabama with stops coming and going to Atlanta to see the grandkids. At a QT in Gaffney, SC, my wife was in the counter line holding a cup of coffee and a fritter. A large black man in front of her asked her to go ahead of him. Sandy told him that he was ahead of her and to go ahead. He responded, “My mama taught me how to act around a lady.”
White privilege? Nope. Just being nice and courteous—the Family way.
On our way toward Montgomery, we stopped off at the Johnston-Malone Bookstore, the source of all things Auburn except textbooks. After improving the J&M bottom-line, we stopped for gas at a local Chevron station. As I reached for the door to leave, the most red-neck of red-necks who looked like a member of the country group, the Kentucky Headhunters, grabbed the door and said, “Let me get it for you.”
White privilege? Nope. Just being nice and courteous—The Auburn way.
My Daddy died days after I graduated high school. He had been ill in the hospital for several weeks. The one thing that stands out to me still about my Daddy’s funeral at the Wilmer First Baptist Church was the tall slim black man who stood at the back with many other people as the pews were full. I knew this black man as Mr. Slim. He worked with my Daddy at McConnel Pontiac in Mobile. He and my Daddy shared body types and nicknames. My day was known as slim, too. Despite all the odds against it in 1965, and especially at a day mourning in June 1965, he came to my Daddy’s funeral.
Lots of people that day came because they felt a duty to come—mostly from church and family. Mr. Slim braved a lot of potential negatives that day—the prejudice of the time; showing up in a small “white” Baptist Church; being accused of getting above his rasin’ as folks were apt to say back then.
White privilege? Nope. Just saying goodbye to a friend — The Southern Way.
Mr. Slim has always been my hero. I wish I had told him so.
Fabulous, Mick, absolutely fabulous! Well-said words from life experiences and a good lesson for us all. God bless Mr. Slim. I’m sure he has gone to his reward by now, but his memory stays with those he touched, like you. How you made it through the halls of higher learning without “going postal” is beyond me. Thanks for reminding us of that quote from Ol’ Abe, too.
Thanks Phil. Really means a lot to hear your resposnses.