The stories “A Father,” by Bharati Mukherjee, and “Serving up Hope,” by Stephanie Shapiro, as well as the poems, “Directions for Resisting the SAT,” by Richard Hague, and “First Practice,” by Gary Gildner, provide the reader with severely contrasting messages regarding a role models place in society. “A Father” as well as “First Practice” illuminate the power struggle between the speakers and their mentees, eventually leading to the point when the speakers fail their sole responsibility. On the other hand, “Serving up Hope” and “Directions for Resisting the SAT” inspire their readers, as their messages exemplify that of good character and advice.
Last week at Guilford Elementary Middle School, the first National Academic League competition was held. Mr. Smith, or Coach Smith as many of the students call him, is not only a teacher for these students but a father figure, an influential and disciplined man with rules that must be followed. As strict as Mr. Smith may be during the hours of National Academic League practice (held every day after school from 2:30-4:30) his smile is just as rewarding, encouraging all of his students to reach the impossible, or in their case the memorization of the 70 geographic facts listed on their worksheet.
In “A Father” the reader is placed into Mr. Bhowmick’s head, a third person omniscient narrator exposes his every thought and feeling. A fascinating short story, leads to a terrible discovery of a depressed and culturally confused man who, appalled by his daughters decision to become impregnated with in vitro fertilization, kills her unborn child. Mr. Bhowmick’s cowardice and lack of leadership leads his family into a rut they cannot escape and ultimately leads him to the devastating act of murder. A father’s traditional role in society is that of leadership and courage, however, the depiction of Mr. Bhowmick shows the reader what terrible circumstances can create in even a traditional man. In contrast to Mr. Bhowmick, the Sampson’s, the speaker in “Directions for Resisting the SAT,” and Guilford Elementary’s Mr. Smith, are examples of excellent role models. Each gives back to the community by offering employment, advice or knowledge all with a stern demeanor structured with just enough laughter to create the perfect recipe for success.
Right before the competition was set to commence, Mr. Smith called our team out into the hallway to lecture as well as motivate all of his young scholars. Unlike Clifford Hill in “First Practice,” whose lecture read suspiciously like that of a basic training indoctrination speech, Mr. Smith allowed for the students to see his reassuring smile. The students finished with a chant for Guilford and headed to their perspective seats in the cafeteria, some behind buzzers others on the bench waiting to be put into the game.
Gary Gildner paints a strategically different picture. Gildner uses the word OK throughout his poem to symbolize the methodic “YES SIR” so often chanted in basic training and continually through military life. The depiction of a school nurse checking for a basic physical is much more intense, transforming this character into a doctor and utilizing the word ruptured, clearly to emphasize the severity of this first game or quite possibly foreshadowing these athletes futures. Although the intensity of Clifford Hill makes for a compelling read, many coaches like this run the risk of injuring their players, placing winning before anything else. Although this tactic is necessary for war when the stakes are life or death, high school coaches need to support students in other aspects of life, as their influence can be the greatest of all. Mr. Smith is a key role model for his students, encouraging knowledge and preaching non-violence during the competition. On game day he emphasized to his students the importance of beating their opponent in the cafeteria through intelligence and expressed grave concern for those who though it appropriate to take the competition further with the use of their fists. Mr. Smith finished by saying, “a lot of schools have been kicked out of the National Academic League for being too ghetto. These are mostly charter schools now. Guilford is not. We will not hold that reputation.” I watched as together, Mr. Smith the mentor and the students of Guilford Elementary Middle School eloquently and passionately kicked butt at their first competition.