Saturday, October 20, 2007

Rod Dreher caps off a back-and-forth between himself and a number of other writers about why people leave home with the following observation:

I spent my last two years of high school at a public boarding school, where they taught advanced classes. The place was a godsend for small-town kids like me. So many of us had been marginalized, and even bullied, for being good students interested in books and suchlike. It's a very old, very common story, I know, but many of us who were fortunate enough to go to that school felt like we really had been saved. Our classmates who'd come from schools in Shreveport, Baton Rouge, Lafayette and New Orleans -- the big cities in Louisiana -- had none of that anxiety and release that we small-town kids did. I finally figured out why: because they'd gone to schools big enough, and lived in cities big enough, to find their own place in a larger society. Peer pressure didn't matter as much, because there were so many people around that you could find a place for yourself. In many ways, it's easier for me to raise my kids in Dallas than it would be in a small town, because it's not that hard to construct a social community of people who share our family's values (the trick is geographical proximity, which is very hard). It's interesting to reflect on how much easier it is for me, living in this big city, to put together a meal more like the kind of fresh country food my folks grew up eating than it would be for my folks to do that today, back home.

This resonated powerfully with me. I, too, spent five socially awful years of my boyhood in a small town in the South. Like Rod, I, too, was bookish, a good student, and lived in fear of physical attacks by Neanderthals. It probably didn't help that Presbyterians were a tiny minority. It certainly didn't help that the parental figures who purchased my clothing were indifferent if not actively hostile to whatever happened to be in style. But . . . moaning about my childhood is not why I'm writing this post.

Rod's article recalled to my mind a condescending piece by Air Force Academy professor Barry Fagin that appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education, and which their fool of a political general trumpeted as a "balanced perspective" on the convulsions that a handful of Jews foisted on the Air Force a few years back. The money quote:

We who teach at the Air Force Academy face extraordinary challenges. Our student body possesses a geographical diversity most universities would envy. But many of our cadets come from small towns with homogeneous populations, and they have never been exposed to a faith tradition outside their own. When Christianity is all you know, and when you have been taught to bear witness to the Truth ever since you could walk into church, some overzealous evangelizing is inevitable. Not excusable, but inevitable.

Um . . . no. It is precisely living in a small town or rural area that forces interaction with a religiously heterogeneous mix of people. Carving out a community of like-minded people is a luxury of us urban dwellers.

No comments: