THE REAL STEAL OF DRAFT DAY
I’m one of those football fanatics who never misses the first round of the NFL draft. But yesterday was the exception. Though I kept up on it a bit via a friend’s laptop, I wasn’t glued to my TV this year. In fact, I didn’t watch a minute of draft coverage until more than 25 guys were already picked. Something else came up that was more important.
Before I explain what happened, let me tell you that one steal of draft day, in my opinion, was Joe Staley, a tackle for Central Michigan (and converted tight end), who the 49ers selected at #28. I like athletic offensive linemen and can’t understand why so many NFL GMs are enamored of big fat slow linemen. Staley is one of closest things we have in this draft to a “can’t miss” outside of the first dozen or so players selected. I'm not a 49er fan, but I've got to give them credit where it's due.
But Staley was not the real steal of draft day. That took place far away from all the major draft day festivities in
Veteran readers of this blog might remember my 14 year old daughter Rebecca’s unsuccessful experience in trying out for the state band (see the November post entitled “Excellence and Empathy”). Well, yesterday Rebecca saved a little face. And the more I think about it, the more I’m realizing that she “stole” one, as we draft fans might say. As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, Rebecca and her friend Gina wrote a play that they entered in our county’s History Day competition. The theme this year was “Triumph and Tragedy in History” and they had a unique presentation that I knew gave them a chance to win at the county level, which they did. Yesterday, that play became one of the two middle school “performances” to make it to Nationals. And yes, I’m very proud of both my daughter and her friend.
Why, you ask, was it a steal? It’s because their presentation less involved history than a discipline that has become one of its neglected stepchildren. I’m speaking of none other than “the love of the search for wisdom” – otherwise known as philosophy. Their topic – Spinoza Remembered – was one part history and two parts philosophy, and it is precisely that mix that surely made it unique among its competition.
Why is it that we teach our children history year after year after year after year after year after year after -- can I stop now, because I really could have continued for grades 1-12 – while almost totally neglecting philosophy? Is it because we’re convinced that children are too shallow to grapple with philosophy? If so, it’s only true because we make them shallow, because lots of kids enjoy thinking deeply … or at least cutting through the B.S. that so often falls under the name of orthodoxy or tradition.
Yes, the kids “stole” one because they found a way to fit a square peg (the philosophy of Spinoza) into a round hole (the events of history). But if they hope to get recognized at a the national level, they will have to work a bit more to ascertain Spinoza’s influence not merely on the history of philosophy but on human history generally. That will be a worthy goal for them between now and June 11th, when they will be presenting their ideas at the National competition.
Of course, all this has made me think a bit more about Spinoza as well. I can’t write their play for them, but I have to write my own script, as it were, for the Workshop that I’m teaching this summer on Spinoza at the Southeastern Unitarian-Universalist Summer Institute (it’s based in, of all places, Virginia Tech). I’ve been asking myself such questions as: Why should the U-U’s care about Spinoza? Why might the U-U’s find Spinoza inspiring? Why might they find Spinoza liberating?
And then it dawned on me. Think about liberty in terms of “freedom to” and not just “freedom from [interference].” Then answer this non-rhetorical question: who, in the history of our species has done more for religious freedom in the modern world than Spinoza?
I can’t think of anyone. But if you can, let me know.