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This place matters

Monday, June 14, 2010

I'm not a role model, but I play one on TV

I should preface this by saying that there's nothing wrong with not knowing words. There are lots of words I don't know, and I will shamelessly raise my hand in board meetings when the treasurer uses a word I don't know (like savings account, for instance). I figure it's dumber to sit there not knowing what's going on than to ask. Not my point here.
Apparently there's some sort of basketball championship thing going on, or was, or something. I know this because NPR, being too Intellectual and Important to just cover the finals, did a story on Kobe Bryant's demeanor during press conferences. Apparently, he's kind of a douche. In the sound clips they played, he sure does seem to be going out of his way to be unpleasant. 
Then they played a clip of a reporter asking Kobe why he was sometimes "so surly." Kobe said, "I don't know what that word means," in a tone so hostile and disdainful that it seemed as though he were offended that someone dared to use a big word in his presence. I mean obviously, if you ask a surly athlete a surly question you're going to get a surly answer. But something in his tone really bugged me. He spoke in a tone, or at least it seemed to me that he spoke in a tone, that reminded me of when I was teaching, the tone children use when trying to prove to each other that they're not smart. You know the tone, the one that sneeringly implies that anyone who dares to actually learn is just a defective loser.
What bothers me is not that Bryant didn't know what "surly" meant. I don't know what a turnaround jumper is, because it's not my job to know what that means, just as knowing what surly means isn't his job. It was the way he seemed to me to be almost proud of the fact that he didn't know the word. I mean, obviously, Kobe's a terrible role model in general, but it bothers me that there are grown-up out there reinforcing the notion that knowledge makes you lame.
Or maybe I totally misread his tone. It's just that I loathe seeing kids jockey to be less intelligent than each other. I hate that kids who want to learn are ridiculed for doing so. Or maybe I'm just being a Sam the Eagle, insisting that things have "socially redeeming value."

This duck creature is as surly as he looks. When I tried to feed him, he knocked the food out of my hand, screamed at me, then bit me. When I ran away, he ate the food. Surly, I say. 


Anthony said...

Man, we've got a whole damn political movement in this country based around the idea that education makes you untrustworthy, and thinking about things makes you a bad person. At least Kobe isn't legislating anything.

Anonymous said...

I apparently had two good things going for me in life, one was that my parents tried as early as I could understand that at least to a certain degree what other people think doesn't really matter. If you're good at something and enjoy doing it then be proud of what you do and show it. Fortunately for me I fell into a group of people in high school, college, and since that seem to have been raised with a similar ethic. It was cool to be smart... as a matter of fact it was even cooler to be smart in an unconventional or unique way.

I hope to raise my kids the same way. I will be proud of whatever they decide to do with their lives, but if they do go into professional sports then I hope they'll be one more like Michael Jordan, the type of role model that was one for more than his skills in basketball, not one that can look at the camera with a straight face and take pride in ignorance.

Anonymous said...

I've seen that kind of attitude in kids too. I don't know when kids get to be the age when being smart was uncool, but I can say that it's mostly an American phenomenon. As an Asian-American kid growing up, it wasn't so much a choice of getting good grades or not, it was more of how many AP and Honors classes I was going to take on top of that. My parents made it very clear that my main job as a kid was to get good grades, and the proverbial shit would hit the fan if I ever got a B.

Brigid Daull Brockway said...

I myself was peer pressured into taking Honors Comparative Political Systems and AP Latin IV my senior year. It was horrible.