Should you have read last week’s column you may remember the specific topic was the Electoral College and the general topic was our Constitution’s guarantee of our right to matter or free choice. Free choice, that is what separates humans from animals and America from many other countries. Our Founders designed a government where the ideal was: All matter, but none too much. Of course, as with most ideals, America’s vaunted guarantees of freedom of choice and equality for everyone remain as goals not yet attained. On the other hand, it is no small thing that America not only proclaimed these ideals but set them forth in writing at our founding. And we have struggled mightily since our Constitution was adopted on September 17, 1787 to live up to our ideals which were declared on July 04, 1776 to be: “That all men are endowed with the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. Although the term “all” was advisory only.
To me these ideals come under the general category of a right to make our own choices but with an understanding our choices have consequences. These Civics lessons were burned into my psyche in a most graphic manner one day in Junior High School by one of my teachers who was straight forward, stern and strict; I liked and respected him. As he was also my Junior High football coach I always called him Coach even in the classroom probably because football was a lot more important to me than Civics. Coach’s successful coaching techniques relied heavily on those previously mentioned traits coupled with a no-nonsense attitude that victory came only through sweat. In the Pawhuska, Oklahoma school system of the 1950’s such was the general credo of the entire staff. And remembering my student days I confess such a system was necessary to force an education into me as my personal credo tended more toward the laissez-faire when it came to school work. Alas, the same was also true for some of my classmates including my friends Abby and Jack whom you will meet soon.
An example of how Coach’s attitude helped instill American history in me occurred during our Civics class section on the Civil War. Coach was one of those teachers who did not allow Political Correctness to cloud the facts. When it came to the reasons why the South seceded he taught that the immorality of slavery was a choice supported within our Constitution and the Civil War was about that choice. States Rights to determine whether to allow slavery, not slavery itself, was the gravamen of “The Cause” at the beginning of the war for the South and preservation of the Union, not the elimination of slavery, was the cause for the North. It was these competing choices and their consequences that brought about the Civil War that eventually both ended slavery and preserved the Union.
I probably would have remembered no more of these Junior High Civics lessons about States Rights and slavery than the other lessons I daydreamed through in school had Coach not given that particular lecture right after grabbing my attention with a long, thin paddle. That otherwise hazy school day began with Coach being called away from class for a brief meeting. When he left his discipline left with him and some of us fell immediately back into our natural educational state of benign ignorance.
My friend Abby who sat in the front row got up to talk to a girl two aisles over. When she did my friend Jack saw fit to sneak behind her and remove a thumbtack from the bulletin board then place it, business end up, on the seat of Abby’s desk. Somehow Abby sensed Coach was returning so she turned and hurried back to her seat. Abby sat down on the tack just as Coach entered the classroom and observed and heard Abby react appropriately.
The Coach affixed his terrifying stare on each of us individually and when he got to Jack, Jack folded like a pair of dirty socks. Coach called Jack up to the front of the class and ordered him to bend over and grab his ankles. From an assortment of paddles he kept hanging from the chalk rail Coach chose a thin paddle about two feet long and pushed a thumbtack through it. After the Coach vigorously applied paddle to posterior while Jack manly gritted his teeth in silence, we had our Civics lesson on choices and consequences concerning the Constitution, slavery, States Rights, the Union and the Civil War. I remember them well. And if any of my classmates from that day read this article I bet they do too.