Our answers to the great questions are a strike out

by Mr. Sheehy

Listening to Dallas Willard this weekend, I heard him present what he called the four great questions of life. They are

  • What is the nature of reality?
  • Who is well off? (Said another way, Who has the good life?)
  • Who is a good person? (Said other ways, Am I–as a person–worthwhile? Do I have something to contribute to the world?)
  • How do you become a really good person?

These are obviously profound questions, and in addition to thinking about my own answers to these questions and the answers I’d like to impart to my children, I thought about my approach to them with my students.

I feel compelled to admit that I am that hopeless, I suppose, that I end up thinking about my students so quickly even when doing something for expressly personal reasons.

Anyway, my initial thought was to approach the questions as goals of literacy and competency. I do teach high school students, after all, so I am not going to have time to toss aside curriculum to delve into questions like these at relevant depth. In that sense, I considered presenting these questions to my students alongside the idea that these are questions they should be able to consider, if they achieve a worthwhile education. “Here are the great questions, students! Can you answer them? Are you literate enough to articulate a response to them and to understand how others are answering them?

That is what I thought, but then I read about the Yankees today.

You see, I am a pure Red Sox fan, raised in New England with heroes named Dewey and Hurst and Garciaparra. I pay little attention to the Yankees unless I have to, though I of course enjoy the history of baseball and appreciate the significance of a storied franchise. I thought it a bit sad that Yankee stadium was closing this year, but I had not read much about why, until today. What I read saddens me to the core and ultimately returns me to Willard’s four great questions. Bob Ryan explains in the Boston Globe:

The Yankees are blowtorching all this glorious history – not to mention the unmatchable history generated by Yankee Stadium . . . for luxury boxes and premium seats. Those 8 million people passing through the Yankee Stadium turnstiles the past two years? The wrong kind of people.

Modern sports economics have no interest – absolutely none – in the common man. You do not matter. The Yankees are only interested in the kind of people who will populate the luxury suites and who will pay somewhere between $500 and $2,500 per person, per game, to sit in the first five to eight rows of the new ballpark. These are the kind of people who, as a Yankee Stadium website explains, will get “an exclusive experience for those with discerning taste who seek the very best that life has to offer.”

In the new ballpark, people in the 1800 Legends Field Suite seats “will delight in the premium amenities, including cushioned seats with teak arms, in-seat wait service, concierge services, private restrooms and a delectable selection of all-inclusive food and beverages.” For these people there will be, of course, a “private entrance, elevator and concourse.”

Baseball is still called the American past-time, and its history is an interesting expression of our nation’s history, as Ken Burns noted in making his documentary, Baseball:

It was our intention to pursue the game — and its memories and myths — across the expanse of American history. We quickly developed an abiding conviction that the game of baseball offered a unique prism through which one could see refracted much more than the history of games won and lost, teams rising and falling, rookies arriving and veterans saying farewell. The story of baseball is also the story of race in America, of immigration and assimilation; of the struggle between labor and management, of popular culture and advertising, of myth and the nature of heroes, villains, and buffoons; of the role of women and class and wealth in our society. The game is a repository of age-old American verities, of standards against which we continually measure ourselves, and yet at the same time a mirror of the present moment in our modern culture — including all of our most contemporary failings.

I suppose the reality is that I as a teacher have no choice about what to teach–I’m too busy trying to aid the achievement of literacy and a pile of curriculum standards that grows longer by the year. But then there we are, at Yankee Stadium, facing some of life’s great questions: Who is well off? Who is a good person? Perhaps by not guiding my students through content like those four questions, I leave them to absorb passively our culture’s answers.  And our culture’s answers are terribly frightening.

So, good-bye, Yankee Stadium. I never visited you, though I admittedly would have enjoyed it (especially if it had been for a Sox game). But while I missed out, you have this guarantee from me: Neither will I visit your progeny, for its very erection represents that which is worthless in our society.

Thanks for reading.