Category Archives: School & University Life

None of us ever truly graduates. From any level.

Variety of Uniformity Informative

Immodest proposal for modest kids

Loose Leaves, 1st run Tuesday 12 October 1999 in The Morning News of Northwest Arkansas

By Ben S. Pollock

Copyright 1999 Donrey Media Group

DATELINE MIRTHOLOGY — It was dawn. Oscar Hapgood was in the park, as usual, foraging for breakfast, when Duff McDuff ran up to him, yelling, “Oscar, they want me to wear a uniform to school. Help!”

Oscar, an executive turned vagabond, wadded up a newspaper sheet and wiped the dew off a bench with it. “Elaborate, please, young friend.”

It seems Duff’s homeroom teacher told the class how the School Board decided to ban individuality, so far as apparel was concerned. Uniforms would solve education problems. This was so obvious that neither from-scratch scientific experiments nor surveys of test scores, criminal records and demographics were needed.

The board appointed a special committee of board members, parents, teachers and others.

“That’s good news,” said Oscar. “A standing committee would deliberate something like this for months. But an ad hoc committee means you don’t need to worry for at least a year.”

“Maybe, Oscar. But Teacher said our district probably will do this real soon because of the school shootings and drugs and stuff.

“Teacher said the uniform will be knit sport shirts and twill trousers. Or we can wear T-shirts with the school emblem. The shirts will be white or red. The pants will be blue or khaki. Khaki is tan, right? Girls can wear skirts. Same colors.”

Lastly, Duff said, only white or black athletic shoes, of any brand, are allowed.

Oscar wondered, with all those choices, where was the uniformity of the uniform?

Little Duff read Oscar Hapgood’s smirk. “It’s to give us freedom of choice.”

Duff said gangs inspired the uniform theory. Their members so enthusiastically wear blue or red that they maim or kill one another over infractions of their dress codes.

Parochial students, with more strict uniforms, seem to be smarter, study harder and are just more serious, Duff was told.

Church schools have above-average, average and below-average students, just like any school, Oscar replied. This fact relieved Duff considerably.

The school board also was worried about socioeconomic indicators. The teacher said less-fortunate parents don’t dress children as chicly as wealthier parents. Uniforms would de-emphasize materialistic status.

Yet, Duff noted, children are real sleepy in the morning; so, if all their clothes are alike, they can dress with their eyes closed.

“Oscar, you can help me,” Duff said. “Go to the committee’s public hearing tonight, OK?”

Duff ran off to school. Oscar pulled from his sack a soprano recorder and blew Handel and Hendrix riffs, while thinking what he could say.

“Uniforms are a grand idea,” Hapgood said to the standing-room-only school board room. “This has such genius that children already are wearing only three or four outfits already.

“The unofficial uniform is old-fashioned jeans or new-fashioned cargo pants for the trunk and T-shirts and flannels for the torso, for both boys and girls. Almost all wear athletic shoes now. Nearly everyone’s hair is too short. The dress codes that schools and districts already have can take care of any problems of taste, distraction or liability.”

“This is good preparation for adulthood. Hamburger joints have uniforms as do repair shops. Business suits are so similar they can be termed uniforms as well, for women and men.

“If change is needed in school, the fairest and most equal way to keep children from envy of any sort is for them to attend class naked.

“They won’t be able to conceal weapons that way, either.”

The special committee gasped, as one. The chairwoman glanced over to the security guard, who nodded his readiness, at her signal.

“This would have to start in all grades simultaneously,” Oscar continued. “This is the absolutely most effective way to teach children how they are all alike while all being different. Teachers should not dress for class, either. Of course for physical education, appropriate supporters and pads should be donned.

“Yes, a few perverts hang around school yards. They would be thwarted by the fact that children would go to school dressed then leave all their clothes in lockers. There’ll be robes and flip-flops in the halls to grab for fire and bomb drills.”

“Mr. Hapgood, your time is up,” the chairwoman said suddenly.

But a couple of the committee members started whispering. They thought Oscar made a good point and asked the chairwoman to let him finish.

“Thank you, good people,” Oscar said. “Now that my proposal got your attention, all I need to say is that you are wasting your time and everyone else’s. Children learn through every aspect of their lives how they are alike as well how they are different Why doesn’t this committee instead try to raise standards of education?”

The next speaker proposed hiring local seamstresses for hems and cuffs. The last speaker wanted the contract for bolts of his polyester-cotton cloth.

Oscar dropped by Duff’s house afterward. Duff had watched the speech on the cable government-access channel.

“Were you serious, Oscar? My tushie would freeze on a plastic chair six hours a day,” Duff McDuff said.

“I am only as serious as I have to be,” Oscar Hapgood said enigmatically.


There’s No Time Like Show Time to Fake What You Know

Loose Leaves, 1st published Sunday 9 September 2001 in The Morning News of Northwest Arkansas

By Ben Pollock

Copyright 2001 Donrey Media Group

Spring is no time for commencement addresses: Who can pay attention in the excitement of graduation from one course, looking toward the next beginning?

September may be a better time. Where you’ll be a year from now may well be set commencing now. Fall is when many runs of events commence, after all.

The primal American myth is that any child can grow up to be president. Or a pro athlete, a star, a leader, something big.

That belief often leads to disappointment. We, all of us, cannot be on top.

Most of us fit the category of “most of us.” Some of us will get to do what we want. A few of us will make it big. Most of us, for example, will be choosing between “making a living” and “enjoying our work.”

Most of us can surmount a broken and mean childhood, like Bill Clinton’s, by realizing it is up to us to leave the past behind us. We don’t have to win the presidency to be successful.

Most of us will be glad, thank you, to hit adulthood with pleasant-enough jobs and family and friends to love.

A general and realistic goal, then, is not to be president or play pro ball but to find work you love. Which most of us don’t find right away. Fortunately, most of us are driven to have the best-paying job possible. This probably is what allows the whole system to move forward.

Most of us will be grateful to find jobs or, better, a line of work (“career” is jargon intended to benefit the economy by entrapping the individual, a related but separate topic) that pay enough and be interesting most of the time.

Most of us will not become CEOs in work paths that basically match our aptitudes and interests but not our passions. Management must not be everyone’s goal. Do you think your boss, a nice-enough person most of the time, likes every duty he or she has to do?

The rest of us? Most of the rest of us — I am among them — discover miraculously work we love. That means an occupation so delicious we’d do it for free.

Because we cannot all be superstars, this work likely will pay less than the work we can endure pleasantly. Like all jobs, it will have times of boredom, frustration and fear.

Picture that singer or that actor or that quarterback practicing practicing practicing. Picture them in the dark of night knowing that if they have a couple of duds in a row they’ll turn into has-beens. They have met on their way up famous failures on their way down.

Most of us don’t need stardom to be content.

That’s fortunate, for avocations often pay nothing to most of us. Most of us, indeed, will do the thing we love on the side: Paint or sculpt on weekends, write poetry or newsy letters, strum in garage bands or toot in community wind bands, act in amateur theater or video productions, design innovative Internet sites few will find. …

Most of us are enormously successful just to pull that off, while working legitimate jobs that pay enough, with friends and family to love along the way.

Getting there, yes, means not just a few but many false starts, wrong turns, ignored good advice and fully idiotic, should-have-seen-it-coming boners.

Most of us recover from most mistakes, though we may have to fuzz up the old goals. Most of us do find that we rely on the ability to fix mistakes all the way to second childhood.

Most of us will be quite grateful to finish high school, then manage to earn further degrees or certificates in just a few years, working part-time and filling out every form we can find to get scholarships, grants and loans.

As an example, you can take a dumb chance and become a teen parent. You can go back and finish school later. You will be able to concentrate better, knowing how badly you need the diploma. It will be harder with lease or mortgage, other loan payments, responsibilities to spouse and children — literal debts and emotional responsibilities.

Not all of us can do that, though. That’s the problem.

Most of us mistake-makers trip over a vague, moving line where we cannot go back and try again. That line is different for each of us.

It’s where you cannot recover the energy of youth. It’s where you cannot recover the money you didn’t need to blow. It’s where you cannot take back that remark. It’s where you missed the chance to apologize even when it’s that other person who should have apologized first. It’s where you missed the chance to say and demonstrate love.

If I knew where that line was, I’d show it here. Save us all some time at commencement. Most of us always will be commencing something.


Book Solves Drug Abuse! See Page 103

Mirthology column, 1st run Wednesday 14 March 1990 in the Arkansas Democrat

By Ben S. Pollock

Copyright 1990 Ben S. Pollock

MIRTHOLOGIST’S NOTE: In the interest of broadening the appeal of this publication, I am turning over this space for a tryout column by psychologist Seymour Sock, Ph.D.

Sock, one of my best-educated characters, knows so much about child development that he wants to share it with everybody instead of one client at a time. If this audition passes muster, the editors may put him on the payroll.

I hereby present Dr. Seymour Sock. Welcome to the keyboard, Sy. Don’t forget my advice.

* * *

Thanks. Hello, everybody. Ben’s suggestion, by the way, was to use everyday words and not to be too long about it.

In civic club presentations, I’ve learned to always open with a joke. I’m sure that works just as well in the writing game.

My topic is drug abuse. Where do I get my expertise?

I researched societal pressure for my doctorate. My thesis — “Effectatious Application of Enforced Structure on the American Model of the Smallest-Frame Learning Reception Environment,” or Classroom Discipline — has held up over the years because succeeding studies also used the children of professors as subjects.

I hope that sentence wasn’t too long.

I know a lot from personal experience as well, coming as I do from a large family who all grew up to by psychologists. No, in response to that question from the back, I am not Joyce’s brother. Ha ha.

That was the anecdote. This isn’t like lecturing at all. How can I wait for the peals of laughter to die down when there aren’t any? Actually, I never have to pause during my speeches, either.

For my first column I thought I’d try a book review. I’m quite familiar with the paperback “Just Say No, Thank You.” It is ethical to review your own book, isn’t it?

Early reviews have suggested the purpose of my book’s large print was to increase the number of pages and thus the price. Actually, the type size was to help parents of all backgrounds, if you know what I mean.

My only criticism is that I should have used more makeup for my back-cover photo.

The title elaborates on the 1980s slogan. My research is that to “Just Say No” to illegal drugs isn’t quite enough.

It is insufficient for South American peasants, who would starve saying no to a steady cash crop; for the addict who needs professional help to say no to his fix; for the casual user who thinks “Just Say Maybe This Once” harmless; and for thousands of middlemen and middlewomen — distributors and marketing reps — whose Saying No would collapse the economies of too many states.

Ben, was that too long a sentence?

The book’s first few chapters elaborate on this chain of U.S. capitalism, then drop it suddenly for the major theme. That may be poor thematically, but without it, I’d have a pamphlet, which would be ineligible for the best-seller list.

The book’s first point, on Page 103, is children of the 1990s must be courteous even when dealing with such evil. Adults find etiquette to be society’s lubricant for getting ahead. Your child’s tempter isn’t all that different from the jerks you have to deal with at work, right?

Children should never forget their “Pleases” and “You’re welcomes” and how to select the proper spoon. Just Say No, Thank You.

The second point is you must be taught the difference between drugs and medicine without resorting to exaggeration: Children eventually will see through such scare tactics.

Parents should, however, warn of the humiliation, prison, disease, death and bankruptcy that drug abuse brings.

All of us should be role models, and that means admitting alcohol is but another drug easily misused. Not only should our homes be free of booze, but adults should abstain from other enjoyable chemicals, such as tobacco, caffeine and garlic.

The book’s final advice is how to use diversion. The best tactic is the anti-drug talent show. Theater has three advantages: Children will be too busy rehearsing to stray and the adults who run the concerts keep a close eye on participants. The last is that the actors always get media attention. They will woodenly tell TV reporters how easy it is to walk away from a dealer.

Instead of learning to “Just Say No, Thank You,” unfortunately, the school assembly simply may envy the stars’ getting excused from weeks of class. My solution: more variety shows. Involve all students in fighting drugs. The heck with education.

This critic recommends that everyone buy this book.

* * *

NOTE: Dear Sy, No, thank you.


Head for Hills, Hogs Coming — But We’re in the Hills

Loose Leaves, 1st published Sunday 2 September 2001 in The Morning News of Northwest Arkansas

By Ben Pollock

Copyright 2001 Donrey Media Group

In days, Northwest Arkansas will be overrun by large vehicles flying fluttering red pennants indicating — not the communist overthrow or seduction of Gov. Mike Huckabee –the return of far-flung University of Arkansas football fans.

You can be a local, fervent UA alumnus, Razorback fan or both and still be off-put by these overly cheery, often forceful and surprisingly loud people in polo shirts.

They take over Fayetteville on home-game weekends. Thus, local residents need advice.

With this season’s expansion of Razorback Stadium from some 50,000 to more than 70,000 seats, close to campus begins further away.

• Thus, the first tip for locals is that the best seat is in the den.

Your den — or elsewhere if the game is just on radio — has a refrigerator and microwave nearby, which only the skybox guests have, but they’ll be wheezing from the smell of new carpet. You won’t get nosebleeds from the new seats’ altitude.

Your parking is closer.

• Don’t leave home on home-game days. The streets are clogged, and will be so for more miles due to the enlarged stadium.

For Saturday afternoon games, the traffic begins Friday and is again OK on Sunday. Following night games, Sundays are best spent reading the paper or working in the yard, away from the curb.

Traffic is heavy yet also erratic. Folks get lost. Also, drivers prowl for free-if-distant parking and also for short-cuts. Their glares indicate they think that “Dead End” signs are but a ruse.

• With tables set for 70,000 fans plus teams, bands, media and staff, not just local but area cafes and bars will be packed. Cook at home, having groceries bought by Friday.

If you’re grilling, do it out front, flaunting the burgers and drinks at the passing football fans, who are driving from restaurant to restaurant hoping to find anything for less than a 90-minute wait.

• Game-day Saturdays are just the time for many Northwest Arkansans to drive to Tulsa to shop or just look around.

• Also recommended are scenic drives south and east on the various Pig Trails. Spending the entire day at Beaver Lake is inviting; you won’t need a radio; the game can be heard from all the boats.

• Alternatively,drive to Little Rock for Park Plaza, McCain Mall and the delightful River Market. Go to the zoo in Fair Park. It is also the home of the Razorbacks’ other coliseum, War Memorial Stadium.

If Little Rockers somehow detect you’re from the Ozarks, you simply must tell them you are there for the game — didn’t they know that there’s been a policy change and ALL UA home games will be played in Little Rock every year, forever.

Little Rockers need their legs pulled; they act as if Northwest Arkansas is but a suburb of their Pulaski County. Either that or we’re a theme park that’s just a bit of a drive.

• Shopping locally can be ideal during games. Shops and the mall will be deserted. Just watch the time and get home before the middle of the fourth quarter. If the weather’s bad, leave sooner.

• In planning how to deal with the up-to 35,000 SUVs, minivans and Cadillacs (holding the 70,000 guests), it helps to consider whether the Saturday in question is summertime-humid, fall-balmy, fall-downpour, or, toward November, fall-freezing.

A hot Saturday means that popular drinks are the cold ones.

A brisk fall day brings out nostalgia,and that means libations.

A wet Saturday necessitates fortification.

Ticket holders fight a cold Saturday with trips to concession stands or stretching toward the cooler under the seat. This is warming exercise.

At least one home game will undergo a downpour. Do Razorback stalwarts open umbrellas or cover their heads with programs? Observation over the years indicates many are fair-weather fans and head, soggily,to the mall or the movies.

• One part of UA Chancellor John White’s goal of a student- centered research university (isn’t that contradictory?) is a nerd round-up, new this term.

Students who during the game grab a few quiet hours of study are to be kidnapped at their labs and libraries by the Chamber of Commerce.

They will be taken to video arcades and movie houses with free passes. The pocket-protector pack also is given pizza hot from the oven — not tepid as delivered. All this will persuade them to stay at the UA for graduate school and then to start billion-dollar businesses here.

• There is one advantage to being in a football town: The least painful and least compromising way for grown-ups of all ages –I mean all ages — to feel again is to spend Saturday evening hanging out on Dickson Street near campus. We and our bellies and gray hair will stand out, but no problem; the current students are nice. The constabulary is assuringly out in force but ignore so-called victimless infractions unless brought bluntly to their attention.

We of the Ozarks can be gracious hosts.


Tossing a Hot Political Football

Loose Leaves, 1st run Tuesday 7 December 1999 in The Morning News of Northwest Arkansas

By Ben S. Pollock

Copyright 1999 Donrey Media Group

The Dissociated Press

DATELINE MIRTHOLOGY — Not to be outdone with the University of Arkansas football field becoming Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium after a $20 million gift from the late publisher’s charitable foundation last week, War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock yesterday received a pledge of $20.00001 million from the Donenough Foundation.

Gus Donenough, foundation president, said he would buck the trend of naming facilities after the major donor and instead use the privilege to remember a hero.

The expanded and renovated capital stadium will be named after De Soto’s first mate, Eugene D. Bidding.

Hernando De Soto, the Spanish explorer, discovered Arkansas in 1541. Bidding, an Englishman, went AWOL and founded Arkansas Post, which was either a town or a newspaper, but not both.

Renovation is estimated to be complete in eight weeks on Bidding War Memorial Stadium. Its only new feature will be the billboard-size sign out front.

The Donenough Foundation said the pledge comes with a catch.

He insists that for his $20.00001 million that Bill Clinton, at the end of his presidential term, return to Arkansas and finish his gubernatorial term.

Clinton resigned in early 1992, with some two years left to serve solely the state of Arkansas, having promised while running for governor in 1990 that he would serve all four years.

Of course, Clinton didn’t really resign but took an unpaid leave, Donenough said. Clinton’s fingers were crossed.

This was not so he could return to the Governor’s Mansion in January 2001 but so he’d have a job in case he lost in ’92 to then-President George Bush the Elder.

When asked about current Gov. Mike Huckabee do, Gus Donenough said he could run for Congress, adding, “On the other hand, he could announce a sabbatical then return in January 2003 and be a hero by cleaning up the mess that Clinton might make.”

The Reynolds Foundation gives generously and mostly to medical and academic arenas. Earlier this decade, it gave $25 million for geriatrics studies at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.

Ironically UAMS, a day after the Fayetteville stadium gift was announced, declared its budget would be short $13 million and that layoffs will be likely.

One cost-cutting effort announced was to close the employee day-care center.

Two reasons were cited for UAMS’s shortfall. The first was a change in federal health-care benefit regulations and the second was the ongoing cost of caring for uninsured and indigent patients at the school’s University Hospital.

Meanwhile, back in Fayetteville, Athletic Department chieftains said little about costs to the university’s and city’s infrastructure coming from the increase from about 50,000 seats to more than 70,000 and eventually 80,000 spots in bleachers, skyboxes and a new standing area for groundlings.

“Where are the extra 20,000 fans going to park their 10,000 cars?” wondered Gus Donenough.

Athletic Director Frank Broyles has a solution for parking. He said that he wanted the new parking deck, the Parkenon, to be expanded.

“Every year, we can add another story to the deck, which would be another maybe 100 parking spots. By the time it gets up to 10,000 parking spaces, we’re going to have some landmark, let me tell you.”

Broyles added that the way to fund the parking was to continue the university’s famous and revered Senior Walk in the deck, with each new layer of parking paid by that year’s graduating class, as the official senior gift.

The UA Physical Plant employees will engrave the names of the graduates.

The university previously announced plans to play most of its home football games at home. Currently, half are in Fayetteville and half in Little Rock. Money remains a problem. The new Reynolds Razorback Stadium must be used year-round.

For example, students will be admitted for $1 apiece during the winter to see closed-circuit telecasts of the some 12 to 14 home Razorback basketball games (played in Bud Walton Arena) on the stadium’s giant Jumbotron television screen.

Broadcast rights would be offered to Bidding War Memorial Stadium.

Also, Reynolds Razorback Stadium now will be big enough to attract the nation’s top musical artists, such as Thrasher, Assault by Battery, the Artist Formerly Known as Madonna and Garth Brooks.

The rock shows usually will be held on weekdays in Fayetteville because major acts reserve weekends for big cities like St. Louis and Dallas.

With ear-splitting concerts coming in once or twice a week, and with the huge rent and concession income they produce, the UA may be the first college anywhere to lower tuition. Then again, it may not.

Donenough, speaking in Fayetteville about his Little Rock project, noted Bidding War Memorial Stadium will not be left behind in year-round bookings.

That stadium lies next to the beleaguered Little Rock Zoo. The zoo has had accreditation problems despite the recently built primate enclosure and new, four-star gourmet concession stand.

The Donenough Foundation has offered to create a friendly habitat for the zoo’s lions and other big cats — in the stadium.

“Exhibiting lions in stadia has been popular since at least the Romans,” noted Gus Donenough.

With the lions on the gridiron, Northwest Arkansans will have a reason to visit Little Rock, and eat in its restaurants and stay in its lodges, thus helping repay the football loss to the Central Arkansas hospitality industry. Which may or may not be the same as the tourism industry.

“Finally, something for everybody,” Donenough said.