"You'll never get ahead if you don't take care of what you have." - Doris Waddell, RIP

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn
The multi-ethnic building was the original home of the music department at UMM. (B.W. photo)

Friday, October 2, 2015

We've come a long way for kids since 1973

The photo shows Willard Wevley and Karen Luthi enjoying the repartee at the MHS Class of 1973 30-year reunion in 2003. We were at Lakeview Lanes.
 
I remember a syndicated cartoon that showed these two dudes with a time machine. One says "set it for 1973." The other one says "why?" That was the gag line: "why?"
Indeed, why would anyone want to go back to 1973? The economic times were discouraging. The political times were discouraging. We were witnessing the unraveling of the Richard Nixon administration. What a dragged-out process that was. Imagine the "Morning Joe" (MSNBC) panelists discussing that every morning, as if it were happening now. Back then, we could witness Watergate from a distance. Maybe it could be put aside for that reason. Our more concentrated media condensed and sanitized things.
The Viet Nam war was a fresh wound to our psyche. America wasn't accustomed to losing a war.
I graduated from high school in 1973. My class was at the apex of the baby boom. We overwhelmed society with our numbers. We couldn't be corralled. We were used to getting our way on all fronts. The job of educators was basically to keep order. They put up with us, then patted us on the fanny and sent us off. To what?
The drinking age got lowered at the time I graduated. We reveled not only in that, but with a certain substance we were smoking. I personally never saw the appeal of any of this. But it was best to conceal your skepticism. The peer pressure was enormous to engage in self-destructive behavior. The cinema character Austin Powers made all of this seem cool. That's misplaced nostalgia: No one could ever want to feel nostalgia about a time when girls athletics was in its stumbling infancy, and our high school didn't even have an FFA chapter - how's that? - and there was no indoor arena for hockey, this despite the fact that our numbers were so teeming.
Why couldn't society get together to provide the kind of resources and outlets that kids have today? Girls sports at the start was a novelty. It was almost like an experiment. I remember a referee saying "you have to call traveling every time (with these girls) or they'll never learn." The girls on those early teams deserved unbounded praise. It was chapter 1 of a total success story.
There were certain girls in my Class of '73, as in all classes, who had the requisite talent to be stars. It's interesting to close your eyes and imagine how good these girls would be today, if they could go all the way through a fully developed program. No novelty now.
Hockey used to be a sandlot type of sport. The boys who liked hockey were a little outside the mainstream. I'm sure you all remember certain boys who were in that category. They were undaunted. I think they knew that big things were eventually coming for hockey.
As for no FFA, I have a hard time understanding that. Today, FFA seems like the most vibrant and high-profile program at the high school. What other program gets a full annual special section with the paper? And yet in '73, there was nary a thought anywhere about having FFA in Morris. I thought some of the faculty resisted it because FFA smacked of vocational education.
I remember covering the launching of the FFA program here in the early 1980s. I remember the name of the first advisor: Jim Clendenin. There was suspicion that our high school administration wasn't totally behind FFA. In other words, there were political obstacles to overcome - a common situation with trailblazers.
Mr. Clendenin filled his role fine. Some stormy waters were ahead, though, in terms of FFA advisors. One, who had been in the Peace Corps, did not win the approval of the local agribusiness community. He didn't seem motivated enough, or organized enough. Then, another advisor came along who didn't get along with the teaching staff.
The FFA advisor had to get integrated with the total school in order for the program to succeed. Eventually the proper chemistry was found. The program has flourished.
Is it vocational education? Maybe to an extent, but so what? There is a gray area in education over whether the learning is really directly connected to one's eventual vocation. When I was at St. Cloud State, my classes in photography ended up seeming worthless. I was subjected to an artsy, avant garde approach. Had my teachers been confronted about this, they might have snapped "well, we're not a tech school." Well, neither is the University of Minnesota, but the U of M has a school of dentistry. Don't you think the purpose of that school is to teach students how to be dentists? I'm sure it's not to have them learn about the theory and philosophy of dentistry.
I think many of the problems in our public education system were solved by open enrollment. Before that, I think schools had many of the problems associated with monopolies. It's all about accountability.
Back in 1973, inflation was a horrible problem in our economy. We flocked to see the movie "The Exorcist." Some friends and I went to the Gopher Theater in Minneapolis to see it. When a movie gets hyped that much, prepare to be disappointed. I thought the movie was overrated. I also went to see "Last Tango in Paris" which might be exhibit 'A' of the oddball movies the '70s gave us. "Crocodile Rock" was a smash hit song from Elton John. Paul McCartney had his "Wings" and he sang the ballad "My Love."
On TV we enjoyed the Odd Couple. The Dow Jones ended the year at 850. A Ford Galaxie 500 car cost $3,883.
The boomer generation of Morris remembers Wally Behm as our principal. He is one of the biggest characters this town has ever known. In the end, I think he ran into problems due to changing times and demands in education - trends that he had trouble adjusting to. I remember when the referendum to create FFA passed, he said "a lot of people voted for it just to see it fail." He was cynical which was a common attitude in those times. He made at least one of the questionable hiring decisions for FFA advisor. I understood that this apparent mistake led to his downfall as principal - his decision to "retire" prematurely. Well, I "retired" too.
I don't think Wally handled retirement well. He should have just walked away from education completely and enjoyed life. He had trouble detaching himself from the Morris school and its affairs. He could be a busybody. He had been the kind of principal that did well by the standards of the "greatest generation" of parents, the WWII generation. That generation didn't really see school as fun for kids, it was more like boot camp. A pox on them for this attitude. Most of the men had probably served under some SOB sergeant at one time. "If it's good enough for me, it's good enough for my kids."
Generations would follow that would demand that school be more enjoyable and meaningful for kids - gentler. Their attitudes won out. Our memories can drift back to 1973 when such a different environment prevailed. Morris High School only included grades 10-12. No room for more. Yet we lacked so many of the amenities that parents have demanded for their kids since. Time marches on. At least we are survivors.
A time machine to go back to 1973? I think not. Let's bathe in the present.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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