Friday, September 28, 2012

Success in School: There is No App for That

Article first published as Success in School: There is No App for That on Blogcritics.

I hear it all the time; there's an app (application software) for that. People want that nearly impossible to find parking space in New York City: there's an app for that. There is an app to know what kind of neighborhood you live in, where to get the best Mexican food, and the hottest cup of joe. There is seemingly an app for everything. I know kids and some adults think this to be the case but, while apps have their undeniable place in popular culture, they are no panacea, especially for accomplishing things that matter most.
There is no app for love, for happiness, for contentment, or for world peace, and there is most definitely no app for success in school. Yes, there are apps you can use in school, and even those that may enhance your understanding of the world, but nothing can be used to make you decipher the complexities of the causes of the Civil War like reading about it, seeing old documents, and learning about it in a classroom.

Let's think about math. Fractions, mixed numbers, and decimals have tortured many students over the years. How about long division? Algebra? Trigonometry? Those words can make your skin crawl long after your high school years are over. There are so-called math apps out there, things that you can put on your phone that will take you part of the way there, but when it comes to sitting down and taking the test, there is no app for that, at least not yet.

Can you imagine having Socrates as a teacher? Many times in my life I have wondered what it would have been like. We educators talk about the Socratic method or Socratic questioning as if it is an ideal world; and in our times with the reality of state assessments, teacher evaluations linked to them, and the pressure to increase test scores, the laissez faire atmosphere of a Socratic classroom seems almost an impossibility.

What should concern all of us now is the app mentality that is so pervasive that it is subsuming the traditional path to acquiring knowledge. Kids do not feel that they need to do research anymore, let alone ever crack open an encyclopedia, dictionary, or thesaurus. They are more concerned with the ready availability of sources than caring about their reliability. This problem is found across the board from elementary school to college. The lure of the cut and paste answer is so powerful that plagiarism plagues all educators because the kids (and many times their parents) think there is nothing wrong with it.

I understand the powerful ways technology can enhance instruction, and I am not saying that we should go back to the dark ages of pigtails dipped in the ink well, but there should be a way to make clear to students that even though there seems to be an app for everything, there is no substitute for learning something on your own. Sure calculators make long division much easier, but if you cannot divide without electronic help then you don't really know how to do it, even if your answers are always right.

I love SMART Boards, iPods, and Netflix just as much as the next guy, but there is something to be said for writing on a blackboard, listening to vinyl records, and seeing a movie in a theater. Kids used to the hush of the marker on whiteboard should also know the wonderful sound of chalk against slate. They should remove their ear buds and get acquainted with the needle getting into the groove, and nothing beats the smell of popcorn and the sacred dark of a theater to see a film. These are great experiences and there is no app that will get you there.

With many states adopting the new Common Core Standards, I am hoping that we are going to truly enhance the classroom experience with the expected rigor and relevance associated with them. If this gets kids to more deeply understand things, makes them think critically, and provides them with skills to discern reliable sources from the galaxy of electronic options at their fingertips, then we will be moving in the right direction.

As an educator and a parent I do not want my kids taking the easy way out. The app mentality is to get a degree as quickly as possible, but that has nothing to do with learning. I want my children to get through school and earn the right to step up each year. This way when they get to the top they will truly belong there.

Sometimes my daughter forgets to copy down her homework, and it's great that we can look online because her teacher posts daily assignments on her class page. There is nothing wrong with this, but when my kids sit down and do their homework, it is without any electronic help. If my daughter has to research something, I let her know there is more than one way to look things up. If we do use online sources, we talk about reliability and citing sources. And, when it is all over, and she asks me to check her homework, happily there is no app for that, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

Photo Credit:

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

What if Jesus Had a Wife?

Article first published as What if Jesus Had a Wife? on Blogcritics.

A compelling article in the New York Times tells of a Harvard professor of divinity who has found a snippet of an ancient manuscript that quotes Jesus as saying, "My wife....". What makes this so intriguing is that the piece of paper containing these words is torn and the rest of the sentence is lost. The piece of papyrus is small (about the size of a business card) and also contains another equally compelling fragment: "she will be able to be my disciple."

Karen L. King, the professor who has revealed information about the text, says that it has been verified by "experts in papyrology and Coptic linguistics" to be most likely legitimate, although the manuscript has not undergone carbon testing because it damages the material, but it will be submitted for spectroscopy which can be used to approximate its age.

Besides the tantalizing fragments about this mystery woman, what struck King as significant were other words in the text about Mary, Christ's mother: “My mother gave to me life,” and “Mary is worthy of it.”

It would seem that this small piece of material was cut up from a much larger document and sold in pieces. As the writing in Coptic appears to come from a few centuries after Jesus lived, it was perhaps copied from some other earlier text. It does seem to the small group of experts to be authentic, and they base this on the supposition that "it would be impossible to forge," according to AnneMarie Luijendijk, an associate professor of religion at Princeton University.

Dr. Roger Bagnall, director of the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, at New York University, said, “It’s hard to construct a scenario that is at all plausible in which somebody fakes something like this. The world is not really crawling with crooked papyrologists.”

So, if this is a valid artifact, what are its implications regarding Jesus? I believe it shows a distinct possibility of a more dynamic and pertinent role for women in the church as foreseen by the founder of Christianity, Jesus Christ himself. It has long been debated about the nature of celibacy and the exclusion of women from the priesthood, but this little snippet of material opens the conversation once again.

In a discussion I had once with a rabbi about Jesus, the man observed, "Jesus was a good Jewish boy." In retrospect that comment may have been on target more than the rabbi realized. Jesus did embrace his faith, loved his mother, and one would suspect lived his life faithfully according to the scriptures he knew so well. Consider this quotation from the Book of Sirach 1:4 in the Old Testament:

Blessed the husband of a good wife,
twice-lengthened are his days;
A worthy wife brings joy to her husband,
peaceful and full is his life.

The scriptures as Jesus knew them were filled with directions to marry, beginning with Adam and Eve, whom God told to be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 1:28). Is it so incongruous for us to believe that Jesus, a man so filled with love in every way, would not have loved (and wanted to love) a woman fully as his wife, fulfilling the scripture as his Father would have all men do?

In a romantic, and perhaps silly notion, one may suspect that he married Mary Magdalene (though King disregards this theory outright). The film Jesus Christ Superstar certainly made an impression on me as a boy, and who could not believe that this Mary did not love Jesus fully and as a woman should love a husband after seeing and hearing Yvonne Elliman sing, "I Don't Know How to Love Him"?

As someone who was raised Catholic, I have long seen the power of women in the church. Sometimes, where a man could not or would not tread, a woman blazed a trail that brought faith and hope to people (think Mother Teresa). But even in less celebrated ways, I have seen many nuns (and other women) doing extraordinary work, much of it difficult, demanding, and sometimes dangerous.

They were not only saving lives but carrying on the work of Jesus himself, the same exact work one would expect of priests as direct followers of the first Apostles.
It is hard to believe that Jesus would not have valued the contribution of women to his church. We do not question his love for his mother, and the church itself has glorified Mary beyond humanity into being known as "the Mother of God." In keeping with that scenario, how and why women could not celebrate Mass and become priests is a mystery to me, since a woman gave birth to one of the Trinity in human form.

Perhaps this fragmentary document attests to a different early church that was closer to what Jesus envisioned. What if the twelve Apostles were not the only ones present at the last supper? What if Mary Magdalene, his mother Mary, and other women whom Jesus loved were also there? Would not this truly first Communion be meant for them all to go out and share?

Of course, even more compelling is the idea of Jesus having a wife. We know from the scriptures that Simon Peter was married, and that did not preclude Jesus from making Peter the Rock, on which he would build his church. Perhaps this is more understandable if Jesus had a wife of his own and knew full well that his ministry could be attended to by married men from personal knowledge.

When Jesus is being led to the his death, what is most salient is that his male followers are almost nowhere to be found. Peter denies him three times, and the rest are all off hiding, except for John. Who are the people who show their support, who lines the streets crying for Jesus: the women of Jerusalem. The traditional Stations of the Cross remind us of the weeping women, of Veronica who wipes his face, and his mother and Mary and Mary (wife of Clopas) who are there at his feet as he dies on the cross. This is a powerful indication that these women were not only brave and loyal but also an integral part of his ministry.

I am not certain about this found fragment, and we always have to be skeptical about things like this; however, its very existence opens up possibilities that are there to be studied and questioned. What true role did women play in Jesus's plans? If more can be revealed about their importance to Jesus in his vision for the church, and even if eventually it can be known for certain that he took a wife and intended for her to be one of his "priests," modern church leaders will have to confront the nature of women in the church from the very beginning. They will also have to reevaluate the dominance of males in a church that just may have been intended to have power equally distributed among men and women.

If all of this can lead to the eventual ordination of female priests, and the permission for priests male and female to marry, it may not just be the start of a new era in the church, but a returning to what may have been the essence of the first century Christians who endured everything for their faith in Jesus. It may also open up the church to a whole new constituency, one that will embrace it as fervently and passionately as those early Christians who went out and literally changed the world.

Photo Credit: Karen L. King

Monday, September 10, 2012

Remembering Not to Forget 9/11

Article first published as Remembering Not to Forget 9/11 on Blogcritics.

It is that time of year again. We say that about holidays but not usually about things that are so somber, so laden with grief even after 11 years, but 9/11 is a day that is so significant, so life altering even for those who were not even born at the time, and it is necessary and compelling to recognize the day in meaningful ways.

The most notable ceremonies are the ones that are officially held at what is known as Ground Zero, the World Trade Center site in Lower Manhattan, and at the Pentagon in Washington D.C., and a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. These are the places where a harsh dose of a reality came to America, when the attacks woke us from our collective slumber. Before that we were all lost in some sort of dream, deep in a foggy place where we thought we were untouchable. How irrevocably did 9/11 shake us all awake with a cruel dose of painful truth: we were vulnerable, exposed, and violated. America was like any other place in the world where terrorism had reared its ugly head.

Eleven years later there are those people who still don't get it, and there are others who choose to forget. Perhaps these are convenient methods to move on with lives, to ignore or selectively block out the thing that is a national nightmare. If this helps people move on, so be it, but they must understand that there are those of us who cannot forget. We will never forget until we close our eyes for the final time.

We lost a family member that day. Last year my sister got up the strength to read some names, including her Steve's, at the ceremony at Ground Zero. I watched with tears in my eyes as I do every year, but this time I also felt so much pride because my little sister overcame all her fears and grief to stand tall, to read the names of others, to read Steve's name, and she didn't falter. This took so much courage and determination, but this had to be done and she did it.

Before Steve walked out their door on what seemed to be just another Tuesday morning, he asked to borrow $20 from my sister. He wanted to buy bagels for the guys in the firehouse. This was how they were there, brothers who cared for one another and made sure there was food on the table. That's how families are and those men were a family. She gave him a twenty and he walked out the door into the impossibly beautiful blue sky day, disappearing into the bright sunshine. She would never see him again.

How many people have these stories? How many people knew those who died or their family members? It reaches out across time and space and affects all Americans. This was not just an attack on our physical selves but our souls. It was meant to break us, meant to make America crumble like those buildings at the World Trade Center; however, that didn't happen. It hardened us, made us stronger and more resolved not to yield, and it changed America forever in ways some of us wish it had not.

So the year has come around again, and we have the inevitable arrival of another 11th day of September. This year it is again on a Tuesday, and it makes me remember that day and the way I went to work, the way we all our started our day. The deceptively tranquil, cloudless sky was "blue all the way to Jesus," as a friend of mine from the South used to say. Kids kissed their parents goodbye, wives kissed husbands, friends waved goodbye as they got off the subway, and we all went on our individual paths.

Everyone likes Tuesday, mostly because it is not Monday. When people parted ways that morning, no one
could fathom that it was the last time for so many. Those who entered the Twin Towers or the Pentagon or got on planes did so as part of routines, the practiced routes of their lives that didn't make them think twice. Some rode elevators up high into that blue sky, opened e-mails, made phone calls, or had that buttered roll and coffee before the day began. Then from out of that peaceful powder blue sky came death and destruction. The horror of it never ends because this gets played over again and again in our heads. If only we think, but we know there is no "do over" in life, and that is what we live with year after year after year.

There should be no politics to 9/11, even though those who run for office tend to like to use the day as a means to their ends. We must ignore them for our purpose is not only to mourn the dead but to honor their memories. We must not allow the naysayers to get to us either. Those people who tell us "get over it" will never understand the heft of our sorrow, the depth of our grief, and it is a futile pursuit to try to make them see. As always, we should ignore these types of people and anyone (politicians or others) who tries to gain something from the day.

I recently watched 9/11: Emergency Room on TLC with my daughter who was a baby on the first 9/11. She never knew her Uncle Steve, but over the years she has heard so much about him. As we watched the show I got tears in my eyes, and she gently touched my arm to comfort me. She asked lots of questions, and when she saw the first building come down, she looked at me and said, "That's the one Uncle Steve was in, right?" I nodded and we kept watching, and I was glad a program like this was on that I could watch with her, but as I sat there and saw the buildings crumble again, it felt like it did the first time eleven years ago. I thought, "This can't be happening!" I still couldn't believe it.

All these years later my family will mark 9/11 again as so many families will. There are people around the world who will also mourn with us, for what happened here profoundly affected them as well. Let us remember the names of those lost in the attacks, in those places that remain sacred to us all now. Also, let's not forget the families who lost fathers, mothers, husbands, sons, and daughters, those who lost friends, and co-workers. All of them suffer most on this day. We know what we feel and think and there is no way to get over it because, as I have said many times before, there is no getting over it. We never will.

Photo Credits: World Trade;

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Political Conventions Are Like Sporting Events

Article first published as Political Conventions Are Like Sporting Events on Blogcritics.

I have wondered if anyone else noticed how much the Democratic and Republican conventions were like sporting events. We had everything that is very similar to sports: a home crowd advantage, cheerleaders, musical interludes, effective use of the Jumbotron, and a team that works together to pull off the victory.

There is, of course, an even more obvious correlation to sports: the one person who is the hero, the guy who is going to be the MVP and help win it all. For the Republicans it was Clint Eastwood; for the Democrats it was Bill Clinton. I find it curious that neither candidate, President Barack Obama or Mitt Romney, was able to hit the walk-off homer; that was left to the supporting players to accomplish.

Bill Clinton was merely brilliant in a scholarly way, but in such a manner that is not pandering to the intelligentsia nor prohibitive for the common person to comprehend. I found Clinton's oration to be rather Shakespearean, and who better than the Bard to know his audience and change the script to play up to the crowd. Clinton did this masterfully, and in doing so he confirmed his status as one of the most elegant speakers around.

Clint Eastwood became not a laughingstock, as many would try to make us believe, but more of a maverick. It says something about the man that at 82 he can seem like a rebel with a very definitive cause. Some pundits noted he was rambling and off target, but clearly there was more than a method to this madness. If nothing else, it provided a bright moment during the convention and caused me to laugh out loud (which I don't do that much.). I just kept wondering when he would pull out the old .44 and ask the chair, "Do you feel lucky? Well, do you, punk?" That would have made my day.

There was so much going on during these two conventions, and I have to admit that now after three nights of each, everything has sort of melted into one for me. I remember some of what Joe Biden said through clenched teeth, as if someone was behind a curtain working the strings. I recall nothing of what Paul Ryan said. I don't remember what Mrs. Romney or Mrs. Obama said either. I do recall Chris Christie, and I kept thinking "When is he going to stop talking about himself and start talking about the candidate?" No wonder they didn't want him on the ticket.

Yes, to me these conventions seemed like they were held in old Rome in an arena brimming with citizens, most of them poor and wanting better lives. What they saw on the floor was like the gladiators, minus the balls and chains and swords and lions. This was pure spectacle, with the goal to work the crowd into a frenzy. Isn't this what all sporting events do so well: get the crowd so animated that what is happening is not as important as that they are there watching it happen.

In the end both sides thought they were the winning team; however, unlike sports, these matches didn't feature one team playing against the other. It is a virtual contest, and the "fans" must imagine the confrontation, playing out the string until November when they can either give the thumbs up or thumbs down sign to the candidates.

I don't know about you, but I think I'd rather see a real sporting event. Why not get Biden and Ryan to go two or three rounds in the ring? Or maybe Romney and Obama could play a few sets of tennis or some hoops. This would be far more entertaining, and whoever wins can get to stand and absorb the adulation of the crowd, and then we all could say our new president is a good sport and know it was absolutely true.

Photo Credit:

Monday, September 3, 2012

Teachers and Students Still Need Summer Vacation

Article first published as Teachers and Students Still Need Summer Vacation on Blogcritics.

It is Labor Day weekend, and if you notice your kids looking a little sheepish, you are not alone. They have a great weight hanging over them because the party is over. They know what Labor Day really is: End of Summer Vacation Day. The loud cries of "no more teachers, no more books" that filled the house are now gone. The enthusiasm for things like sand and surf has waned, and the reality of back to school (which signs in retails stores have been reminding them about since the end of July) has slapped them across the face.
Back to school is a rite of passage as much as sleepovers and play dates. It becomes increasingly harder as kids get older to sell them on this as a happy development. My son, backpack ready since early August, is excited to go back to school and start Pre-K. My daughter is starting middle school, as if that is not hard enough, and has reports due on the first day. Did we ever say life was supposed to be easy?

So if it is so hard to get kids back on track after summer, should we jump on the bandwagon and push for school all year long? My answer is a resounding "No" because summer presents a different opportunity for learning; it is a time when a child can be responsible for doing assignments that are due, but it is also a golden moment in their lives when they can enjoy just being kids.

As an educator, I have heard all sorts of arguments for year-round schooling here in the United States. Everyone from President Obama to the school bus driver has weighed in on this issue, and I find that it mostly comes down not to party lines but to this painful truth: most people who want year-round schooling basically want it for child care and not for educational purposes. These same people want extended day schooling and Saturday and Sunday classes too. If we take a step back and look at this issue honestly, we can see how detrimental it is academically and emotionally for everyone involved.

The example of Asian education is often used to make the case for year-round schooling, but this is simply an exaggeration of what is a complex issue. China, Japan, and South Korea may have twelve months of schooling in various forms, but do not go thinking this is the shining star to which we should aspire. First of all, none of these countries is doing better than the U.S.A. and, in fact, their economies are struggling and students there do not fare that much better on exams; furthermore, why do you think that people of means in China, Japan, and South Korea always seek schools in America for their children?

Here in the U.S.A. there are plenty of charter schools that now offer the year-round model and extended day, but there is no overwhelming data to show that students from these schools are doing exceptionally better than their counterparts in schools that still have the old ten months, 180 days of school model. The pressure is on though from parents who seek the best for their children and assume that less is definitely not more. If their children learn so much in six hours a day they reason, why won't they even learn more if school is eight or nine hours a day? To take it even further, wouldn't it be better for the kids to also be in school on Saturdays (and maybe even Sundays) in order to learn even more?

The problem here is that children are not robots but living and breathing kids, and the fact is that they don't need a modern version of Mr. Gradgrind, from Charles Dickens's novel Hard Times, pounding facts and figures into them all day long. That is why long ago it was understood that students need recess and physical education as part of their regular school day. They also need breaks from school during the school year.

We are asking students to do more and more, and even in Pre-K we are pushing academics over play time and nap time. Then there is an array of after school activities that keep many kids busier than corporate executives, with a need for a day planner and a chauffeur too. I recall one time when my daughter was on student council and had meetings to attend and all her other extra-curricular activities. I asked her if she wanted to go visit my father, and she looked at me with the most serious expression and said, "I'll have to check my schedule." Summer vacation offers a respite from the school year that children actually require. We are all guilty of "doing" more than we need or should do, and as a result we have kids going off to school way too early and coming home way too late.

They also go from school to activities that tucker them out. Soccer, dancing, piano, gymnastics, swimming, and tennis classes keep my middle schooler in search of a free moment during the week and on weekends. Gone is the time when kids came home from school, had mom make them a snack, and then sat down and did their homework. When you are helping your kid with fractions at 10:30 on a school night, you know she is up too late and so are you.

Here is a revolutionary thought: we don't need more school hours or school days, we need better instruction during the hours and days we currently have. Nine hours of school a day are definitely not going to help students if there is no quality in the first six. A bloated school day in an effort to appease those who really need child care does a disservice to everyone. The bigger problem is that we are over testing our kids and wasting valuable school time in the process. Cut out all the standardized testing and all the preparation required for students and teachers, and you will see how we find the time for reading, writing, and arithmetic.

Teachers are members of a most noble profession and must be considered as well here. Teachers who are really teaching are mentally and physically exhausted at the end of the day. They stand all the time; they are instructing and observing and tutoring and listening all day long. Asking them to provide quality instruction is a given, but by the seventh hour they will be depleted, and by the ninth hour who wouldn't expect them to be sitting behind a desk and giving busy work? That is a case of quantity over quality and it makes no sense to anyone except those who need their kids somewhere, anywhere, until they get home from their own busy lives to pick them up.

Summer vacation provides both students and teachers an opportunity for down time in a world where everyone is expected to always be up. I was happy to see my kids sleeping late, enjoying long walks in the woods, swimming as long as they wanted, watching sunsets, and staying up late to see the stars and fireflies. As much as back to school is a rite of passage, so is summer vacation. It is a time when kids don't have to worry about being somewhere, and a time parents can get to be with them for quality moments that are impossible during school days.

As summer ends I am happy to see my kids go back to school because it is the way of things, but I am also going to miss having them to myself too. Now we return to the daily appointments, the rushed breakfasts and suppers, and the squeezing in of all things into a seemingly too short day. One thing will keep me going these next ten months, and that is knowing I will have summer with them again next year. I hope nothing changes that in their lifetime or in their children's, because summer vacation is a prerequisite for being able to handle the challenges of the rest of the year.

Photo Credits:;

Saturday, September 1, 2012

The Unbearable Lightness of Being a Sportswriter

Article first published as The Unbearable Lightness of Being a Sportswriter on Blogcritics.

If you have ever read Richard Ford's novel The Sportswriter, you would get an idea about the life of someone who chooses to write about sports. In this book the protagonist, Frank Bascombe, has failed in trying to write novels; therefore, he moves on to try his hand at sports writing. While this changes his life, it also subsumes his former aspirations. It seems this is the lot of sportswriters; they are never respected by other writers who think writing about sports is for hacks and not worthy of being called literature.

This is the kind of "those who can do it do it; those who can't teach attitude." I have the utmost respect for teachers, and as an educator I can tell you how much work they "do" everyday. Unfortunately, in academe there is a similar misconception and attitude: Sportswriters are writers who couldn't make it. They are more like Oscar Madison of The Odd Couple than anything resembling George Plimpton, who wrote about sports but seemed to get a pass from those literary stiffs puffing cigars and drinking brandy in some dark lounge.

Now, I have first hand proof of this. An old friend of mine (we were classmates when getting our doctorates in English) contacted me after many years. He was an English professor somewhere out west, but he had come home for the holidays. We were talking about what we were doing and writing, and the conversation came around to my being a co-head sports editor at Blogcritics. Well, you could have heard the proverbial pin drop. After a few moments, he said, "Sports? Really?" The conversation quickly came to a close and I've never heard from him again.

This is not an isolated incident. Amongst those in academic ivory towers, there is definitely a looking down the nose at sports writing. While most institutions of higher education boast about their sports programs (and they get millions and millions of dollars in revenue from them), their faculties are not inspired by writing about sports. What is it about sports writing that bothers them so much? Is it that they are dismissive of the importance of sports in American culture? Or perhaps they feel it is beneath them to have to write about something that has no significance in their own spheres of reference?

There have been many great sportswriters. My current favorite is Mike Lupica, who writes a column in the New York Daily News. Mike has also broken out and written books like Million-Dollar Throw and The Big Field, but these are "sports" books, so that you have no illusions. No one is going to confuse Mike with Robert Olen Butler, but he is more a "write what you know" kind of guy, keeping with the famous Hemingway philosophy. Hemingway wrote about fish, guns, war, and women and he did pretty well with that; Mike Lupica is doing pretty well himself and does not require commendations from pretentious literary types.

Still, I understand the perception of sports writing and sportswriters well enough. Four of my books have been published, and they all fall into the "literary ficiton" category. This doesn't get me anywhere fast, but they were books that I believed in and care for. Each book I have written is like a precious child to me, and I still love them dearly even after they leave home and are out on their own, but I do have one book that I have kept locked up in a dark room, like Rochester's wife for fear of discovery. It is a sports-themed book about growing up a New York Mets fan, and I have been working on it on and off for years, but keep stopping because I decided to invest my time in the others. It is that simple.

Sports has a deep place in the collective American imagination. There are people more loyal to their teams than to spouses or girlfriends. They live, eat, sleep, and breath team colors. They dream of championships and meeting their favorite players. Sports is deeply woven into the fabric of American culture, and perhaps that is why academic types despise it so much. They know they would never find anyone with the same allegiance to Beowulf, Paradise Lost, or any of the other stuff they try to ram down undergrad's throats. As my friend (a blue-collar worker) has always said to me, "See how many people watch the Super Bowl and compare that to how many people go to your poetry readings."

One other story comes to mind here. Years ago I was teaching in the English department of a college in New York City. One of my colleagues had come out with a book about baseball. We were talking about it one day, and a senior member of the department overheard us. "You have a book?" he asked my friend. When the older fellow saw the cover and realized what the subject matter was, his enthusiasm was lost as was the sparkle in his eyes. With a grumpy, "Well, good luck with that," he turned and walked away.

Despite all of this, I enjoy working with other sportswriters as an editor at Blogcritics. I appreciate the craft of writing about sports. It takes not only knowledge of the game itself, but also the ability to put it into the right words, capturing motion on paper. The sportswriter also understands that everyone else thinks he or she is an expert analyst; therefore, that must be kept in mind as well as the fan's allegiance to the team he or she loves. It's emotional and personal and that has to be understood and respected.

It isn't easy being a writer, no matter what others think. Hemingway said only heavy lifting was harder work than writing, so let us consider sports writing the heavy lifting. Still, if you watch sports enough, you see the literary in it, the artistic stroke of the ball thrown by the quarterback; the poetry of the basketball as it swooshes through the net at the buzzer.

This is why people write about sports, and there will always be those who will read what is written because they appreciate that someone loved what they love enough to write about it.

Now, someday I just might go up, unlock the attic, and take down my dusty sports book and start working on it again. I was going to wait until the Mets won another World Series, but the way things are going I won't be around in 2100, so I guess I better get to it.

Photo Credits:;