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Our media columnist offers a satirical look at campuses presidential candidates should skip if they want to avoid a Bob Jones University scandal of their own.


Sean Elder
March 3, 2000 10:00PM (UTC)

In the wake of George W. Bush's Bob Jones University controversy, I
would like to offer the
presidential candidates a list of other
schools they might wish to avoid in
their campaigns. All of the institutions
listed below are in states where the
electorate will vote Tuesday. Tune in,
turn on, but stay away from these
campuses.

California: Nowhere is life's box
of chocolates chewier and nuttier
than in my native state. While New York
boasts myriad splinter groups of
nearly every ethnic origin, at least
their members are generally of this
Earth.
The Center
for Greater
Awareness
, headquartered in Ojai,
has an intergalactic reach. The school's
Web site comprises a series of "global
meditations," and finding the center in
its physical manifestation may prove
difficult.

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Check out the video of the
woman in white who presumably writes
these meditations. Even on a T-1
connection, one look will tell you that
this is an institute run by aliens,
and I don't mean the illegal type,
either. She addresses "the children of
Earth" and encourages us to communicate
via "the spirit within" with "those
of us who have chosen to be on the path
of Earth service."

The folks at the Center for Greater
Awareness have seen "the blueprint for
planet Earth," it seems, and are willing
to share a few of the details --
to those willing to ask.

"Think about reaching out for
assistance," says the woman in white in
a
rather disembodied voice. "We are ready,
we are available." As wack as she
sounds, there are no specifics, no space
ships hiding behind comets. And
these Earth-service beings are believers
in free will, after a fashion.
(You chose yours light-years ago, it
seems, so stop your whining, Shrub.)

Though Vice President Al Gore was
recently voted most likely to be from
another planet, a dip into the center's
meditations left me thinking that Bill
Bradley might benefit most from its
programming. In one missive entitled
"Giving," Ms. Earth Service 2000
declares, "This is an excellent way of
forming thoughts and determining
directions and purpose, rather than
haphazardly meandering through life."

New York: Hillary and Dubya
learned the hard way that New York
politics is street-tough, more like
ringolevio -- in which real prisoners
are captured as in war -- than a game of
Hit-the-Penny. (The first lady,
you may remember, famously air-kissed
Mrs. Arafat after the latter accused
Israel of gassing Palestinians, while
Bush confused the racist Nation of
Islam with Islam itself.) Other
candidates might be lulled into thinking
a
visit to a respected yeshiva such
as NYC's Jewish
Theological Seminary
would be safe.
They would be meshuga.

Billing itself as "the academic and
theological center of Conservative
Judaism worldwide," the school features
discussions and lectures on topics
such as a woman's place in the brit
milah
(ritual circumcision). That
lecture will take place Monday, the day
before the election --
but any candidate caught passing through
will suffer the eternal wrath of
the vocal anti-circumcision movement. How would you
like to go through the primaries with
people howling about your foreskin?

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Though courses in "Finding Spirituality
in Prayer" should be less
controversial (especially for "uniters"
like Bush), "A Kabbalistic
Perspective on the Exodus" could open a
can of worms. Best to follow the
advice of Rabbi David Saperstein: "Speak
little, do much."

And keep it up if you get elected.

Missouri: The "Show Me" state has
a few things to show the candidates
about taking things at face value. Take
the Keeter Center for Character
Education
in Point Lookout. On the
surface, it's all innocence and
character building, nothing wrong with
that.

But look out indeed, ye men who would be
president! According to the
school's online tour, you can stroll the
grounds and "observe students
toiling away at various student
industries such as the fruitcake and
jelly
kitchen."

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Well, you don't need John McCain's
"gaydar" to figure that one out! Though
the school claims it's dedicated to "the
development of character and good
citizenship," and past visitors have
included Colin Powell and W.'s mama,
Barbara "Rhymes With Rich" Bush, the
Christian school's message may be more
insidious than that.

The "Work Ethic" forums, for example,
emphasize "the value of honest labor."
For a candidate trying to reach out to
all branches of the work force, such
reliance on outmoded concepts could
offend some in the entertainment or
technology industries. (Though McCain
scored big points with both groups
when he was asked by the Associated
Press what he would bring to a desert
island. While other candidates mentioned
books and the Bible (guess who),
McCain said he would take a satellite
dish. Now whose desert island would
you rather be stranded on?)

Vermont: Goddard
College
has been so cool for so long
that a French director named
himself after it. But the venerable
liberal arts school presents a sand
trap for the unwitting candidate.

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Take the college's stated belief in
"whole person learning: It is in the
context of his or her whole life that
the student discovers that learning
doesn't end -- that the conclusion of
one learning experience illuminates
the need for new learning. More than
that: Each successful learning
experience casts a new light on previous
learning, by which to revise or
reconstruct what one thought one knew."

Bush, they're talking to you! Don't get
sucked into the name game,
even that old Mary Ann vs. Ginger thing.
(Though the governor aced David
Letterman's surprise question Wednesday
night: "Who is the president of the
Hair Club for Men?" Bush socked it right
back at him: "Would that be Uncle
Sy Sperling?" He should give the number
to Gore.)

While student organizations on campus
look to be the usual bunch of freaks, the
Womyn's Center presents special
challenges to the GOP candidates. The
club
is "based on women's contributions,
functions, roles and experiences and
is derived from their strengths, while
recognizing the limitations of their
socially ascribed roles and the nature
of their oppression." Here women are
invited to "release feelings into our
punching bag" -- time for some Secret
Service women, boys?

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Connecticut: Politics and acting
have a lot in common. There's the
greasepaint and the hot lights, the need
to memorize speeches and feign
enthusiasms. And if your show stinks,
you close in 12 weeks.

The program at Yale Drama is designed to
teach "the crafts of the theater, while
the intellectual world of Yale
University informs our critical
aesthetic ideals." That sounds
high-minded, just like a lot of
political rhetoric.

But drama school is a deceptive
environment. Beneath all the expressions
of support and the stated desire to
subjugate individual ego lies a cauldron
of rank emotion: vengeance, envy,
schadenfreude. Peer review plays
an important part in the education of
aspiring thespians here. "The first year
is a highly disciplined period of
training," according to the program
description. "Through rigorous attention
to the text, students learn to identify
and personalize a character's driving
need (objective) and to engage
themselves (voice, body, mind and
spirit) in its active pursuit, informed
by character-specific listening." A
reliance on props is sort of a Bozo
no-no, so McCain -- with his action
figures and light sabers -- is going to
have to dig a little deeper in front of
this crowd.

And even though any candidate's appearance here can be
cerebral as well as absurd, watch out for the
critics in the audience. By the time
they're finished, any candidate speaking
here
may find himself wondering: What's my
motivation?

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Sean Elder

Sean Elder is a frequent contributor to Salon.

MORE FROM Sean Elder

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

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