A Luminous Halo

"Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end." --Virginia Woolf

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Location: Springfield, Massachusetts, United States

Smith ’69, Purdue ’75. Anarchist; agnostic. Writer. Steward of the Pascal Emory house, an 1871 Second-Empire Victorian; of Sylvie, a 1974 Mercedes-Benz 450SL; and of Taz, a purebred Cockador who sets the standard for her breed. Happy enough for the present in Massachusetts, but always looking East.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

DARE to Change

This week I'm doing some research for an article on the D.A.R.E. program. That's Drug Abuse Resistance Education. Or at least it used to be. Now the focus of the program has expanded to include education about violence...anger management, date rape, and so on.

The town of Wilbraham has had a D.A.R.E. program in the schools since my kids were students there. I'll admit I pretty much thought it a waste of time back then. It made my kids uncomfortable, and I didn't like the way they were made to role-play scenarios in which at least one member of the group had to be the bad guy. It's not that I don't think kids should be educated about drugs, in school or out. I just didn't like the way it was done.

Somewhere along the line, thankfully, D.A.R.E. got an overhaul. It's still taught by cops, which is OK. Gives them a positive and preventative role, allows them to get to know the kids in their community. Apparently some kids take advantage of the class to draw an officer aside and discuss issues that are troubling them--problems at home, or with friends they don't know how to help.

The other improvement in D.A.R.E. is that it no longer teaches about drugs in a vacuum. Nobody abuses drugs unless he has some real problem he's trying to get away from...boredom or bullying or physical abuse at home or whatever. Discussing these issues, drilling it into kids that these are not acceptable situations, giving them information they can use to solve problems is a good thing.

Of course, when you take away the unacceptable behaviors, you have to substitute something else. The something else, when you're reading my newspaper column anyway, is always the YMCA. Keep kids busy--whether they're playing basketball, using a computer to finish their homework, or learning to step--and you keep them out of trouble. Wilbraham's lucky to have a brand-new, state-of-the-art YMCA facility for all of its bored little rich kids. Ironic that it was built on land I used to own. I wish it had been there for my children.

Bad Poetry: The Happy Little Cripple

James Whitcomb Riley (1849-1916), "the Hoosier poet," was the most popular writer of his time. He cranked out a large amount of sentimental, homespun verse, often depicting the simple comforts of home. The attractive picture he painted of a prosperous and comfortable existence is thought by many to be the origin of the expression "the life of Riley."

Riley is most famous for such poems as "Little Orphant Annie," "The Old Swimmin' Hole," "When the Frost Is on the Punkin," and "The Raggedy Man." He wrote many works in dialect, a wildly popular style around the turn of the last century. Often his poems were told from the point of view of children, as the following example, startling to the politically correct twenty-first-century reader:

from The Happy Little Cripple

I'm thist a little crippled boy, an' never goin' to grow
An' git a great big man at all!--'cause Aunty told me so.
When I was this a baby onc't I falled out of the bed
An' got "The Curv'ture of the Spine"--'at's what the Doctor said.
I never had no Mother nen--fer my Pa runned away
An' dassn't come back here no more--'cause he was drunk one day
An' stobbed a man in thish-ere town, an' couldn't pay his fine!
An' nen my Ma she died--an' I got "Curv'ture of the Spine"!

I'm nine years old! an' you can't guess how much I weigh, I bet!
Last birthday I weighed thirty three! An' I weigh thirty yet!
I'm awful little for my size--I'm purt' nigh littler 'an
Some babies is!--an' neighbors all calls me "The Little Man!"
An' Doc one time he laughed and said: "I 'spect, first thing you know,
You'll have a spike-tail coat an' travel with a show!"
An' nen I laughed--till I looked round an' Aunty was a-cryin'--
Sometimes she acts like that, 'cause I got "Curv'ture of the Spine!"

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