Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Friday, December 4, 2015


CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith for the Years of Winter… ©

As I walked this morning, about 32, nippy, frosty, it reminded me of so many mornings like it when I walked to class at IU, Indiana University, and I was very thankful to be back here, in Bloomington, to close the circle, to be “where my life began.”
            I really think of it that way. Mostly because it was at IU that I met Helen, and none of the rest of my life would have been possible without her, but the whole IU experience opened the world to me. Those were a marvelous four years. Yes, there was the usual heartbreak of romantic rejections, before I met Helen, and the uncertainty about what I was supposed to do with my life, all the usual stuff of that stage of life, but it was like being put into the basket of a trebuchet and then flung out into space--uncertain where you’ll land, but exhilarating.
            At the same time, I feel a little embarrassed at saying my life started at IU, because Oakland City, IN was so good to me. Moving there in the middle of the first semester of 5th grade, a poor country kid, without decent clothes, who had to ride on a horse-drawn wagon with his father to go into town, those OC kids were so accepting of me anyway. They had a high regard for education and intelligence. As soon as I started getting the best grades in class, [matched by James Burch], they were even nicer to me. They thought that was great, quite unlike the anti-intellectual tenor of our current times.
            The good grades were a surprise to me. We did not have letter grades at Lucretia Mott Public School # 3 in Indianapolis. Each grading period the teacher wrote something like “Johnny isn’t too awful.” I already knew that.
            Oakland City was old-fashioned. We had quizzes in spelling and arithmetic and all the other subjects almost every day. No concern for privacy--we passed them to the kid across the aisle to grade. Quickly everybody knew that I got all the answers right.
            On top of that, Uncle Ted, my mother’s oldest brother, who once served in the Indiana Legislature, lived only 5 miles away now, and had no children, so he became a sort of grandfather. He promised me a dime for each A and a nickel for each B. I was rich.
            I wasn’t really competitive. I didn’t try to out-shine the other kids. I was glad if they got good grades, too. But I wanted their respect, and I wanted dimes.
            Strangely, I think a lot of my dimes were the result of Lucretia Mott School, so I guess maybe I should say that my life started in Indianapolis. The state board of education, or whoever made those decisions in those days, decided that PS 3 would be an ideal place to try out new ways of educating. It was a poor but respectable section of the city. Educators were not afraid to come into our part of town, which was probably the main reason we were chosen. All the kids were white. Our parents were uneducated and compliant, so they would not complain if the experiments went wrong.
            A lot of the experiments did not work. I was afraid for years to sing. I still can’t draw. I could not learn to read by having whole phrases flashed onto a screen by a slide projector. [Part of experimentation was using new technology.]
            But the Hawthorne effect worked.
The AT&T labor engineers experimented at the Hawthorne, IL plant. They gave the employees longer lunch breaks, and productivity went up. They brought in snack machines, and productivity went up. They gave folks nice stools instead of making them stand up to work the assembly lines, and productivity went up.
The message was pretty clear. But then one of the engineers got a bright idea.
He shortened lunch breaks, and productivity went up. He took away snack machines, and productivity went up. He took away the nice stools and made people stand up to work at the assembly lines, and productivity went up.
            Productivity was the result of getting attention! The attention mattered. The employees felt that they were respected, that not just what they did mattered but that they themselves mattered.
So, I think I got dimes at Oakland City in part because I got a lot of attention at School # 3 in Indianapolis. Also because of Saturday afternoon matinees at the Tacoma Theater, where I learned not to trust guys in black hats.
Well, my life started some place, and I give thanks for all the folks who helped me along the way.

John Robert McFarland

I tweet as yooper1721.

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