Against the wind…don’t take the wrong turn

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    Golden handcuffs, was a term my late friend Harold Bailey referred to often, and that my mechanical genius buddy Mike Sapp used frequently as well.

    I worked with both men for a majority of my career and their wisdom far exceeded their abilities as a coach in Harold’s case, and as a mechanic who could repair anything with Mike.


    What are golden handcuffs anyway? In the business world, it was a term created in the mid-1970s in an era of executive flight to greener pastures. The official definition is this, “Golden handcuffs are financial incentives given to employees to discourage them from leaving a company.”

    Well, that’s a weak connection between my friends and me. We were teachers. There was no financial incentive. Mike and I could have made a lot more in the private sector as mechanics and IT professionals. So why did we feel those handcuffs?

    The quickest and the most binding answer is family. We all took our responsibility as fathers seriously. We had wives to take care of and families to raise, that’s what men do.

    Many men still do it, even though the media and entertainment tell you how worthless fathers are, and how women no longer need men. Some of us just don’t buy the crap they’re trying to sell.


    Bruce Springsteen had the antipathy of our stoic drive to take our vows, responsibilities, and commitments to heart.

    The “Boss” as Springsteen is known, expressed this other view much more fluently in his hit “Hungry Heart.” A couple of stanzas from his tribute to self-indulgence.

    Got a wife and kids in Baltimore, Jack
    I went out for a ride and I never went back
    Like a river that don’t know where it’s flowing
    I took a wrong turn and I just kept going

    Everybody’s got a hungry heart
    Everybody’s got a hungry heart
    Lay down your money and you play your part
    Everybody’s got a hungry heart


    At times it was tempting to just wash your hands and walk away from problems. It still is.

    Abraham Maslow was the darling of many a wasted Friday afternoon in our collective teaching careers. It wasn’t that the imminent psychologist didn’t have a viable message for teachers to understand, it was that we were beaten over the head with it.

    Maslow had a hierarchy of basic human needs that we as teachers were to provide for our students. No problem there, that’s why we were in the classroom, to teach and guide young people.


    I found it ironic that the same “needs assessment” we were to do constantly with each student was ignored by the administration when it came to the instructional staff. Suck it up and go to work was the overriding message for the staff.

    My takeaway from Maslow was one of his most basic tenets, the “fight or flight” nature of human personalities.

    I’ve always been more attuned to the “fight” rather than the “flight” aspect. Fight doesn’t mean throat punching some antagonist who desperately needs it, we’ve become too civilized for that. (though it was tempting on hundreds of occasions) Fight means defending your principles, your family, your beliefs, and your students against those that would do them harm.

    It’s another masculine trait that is now being globally discarded under the banner of “toxic masculinity.”

    For two generations now our society has actively sought to feminize young boys in public elementary schools. They must sit quietly, behave, not fidget and with standardized testing taking over actual instruction, they’ve even taken recess away from the youngsters.

    If a boy does act up, it’s referral time and a healthy dose of Ritalin to mind numb him into compliance.

    I can understand why Springsteen wrote that song in situations like these.

    A contemporary of the “Boss,” Bob Seger had a hit that mirrored “Hungry Heart” but only after the longsuffering man had put in his due diligence to the restrictive 9 to 5 world. “Against the Wind” is one of my favorite songs, and the lyrics are compelling.

    The years rolled slowly past

    And I found myself alone

    Surrounded by strangers I thought were my friends

    I found myself further and further from my home, and I

    Guess I lost my way

    There were oh-so-many roads

    I was living to run and running to live

    Never worried about paying or even how much I owed

    Moving eight miles a minute for months at a time

    Breaking all of the rules that would bend.

    I began to find myself searching

    Searching for shelter again and again

    Against the wind

    Midway through my career, I had our principal call me in to ask my view of education. He did that with the entire staff, and it ended up not going well for him.

    “I feel like I’m on the edge of a bottomless pit, swinging a sword fighting hordes of indifference, ignorance, and self-indulgence, and my arm is getting tired,” I told him.

    He physically gulped and said, “Ok, you can go now.”

    It wasn’t the answer he wanted to hear, but it was a genuine description of how I felt in an educational world where the inmates were running the asylum.

    As my friend Tim Ervin often said in those days, “We’re going to need a bigger tent, the elephants are out of control.”

    We felt that way, and the kids may have caught on, but to a person, the men and women I taught with hid it from the students.

    A few of those aging kids with families of their own, and the handful that went into education as their career choice may read this. It was our duty, our “golden handcuffs” to protect our students against the fads, bandwagons, and outright menacing, forces of darkness that sought to destroy their future by hampering them with mandated, mind-altering agendas.

    In my case, and with my teaching friends, we never let those reach the kids. No matter how many times we were written up for non-compliance, we took the bizarro version of the “golden handcuffs” as a serious threat.

    No, we were never rewarded financially and were often browbeaten, but our duty, our due diligence, was to the kids in our classrooms.

    I know there are still many teachers out there fighting the good fight, and good administrators trying to shield their staff and students from the latest national mandate.

    You’re against the wind but don’t take the turn and never look back.


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