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Book and Film Reviews

The Blind Side

This past week I watched The Blind Side. Despite my resistance to watching it and my usual dislike for Sandra Bullock movies, this was a good story and a movie worth watching.

The story of Michael Ohr’s life is told from being removed from his drug-addicted mother, placed in foster homes, couch surfing, road wandering, being taken in by the wealthy Tuohy’s, to getting a full scholarship to play football at Ol’ Miss, and being drafted by the Baltimore Ravens.

A tear-jerking story, filled with status-quo shattering moments, it proved to me that we don’t even know what we are looking for to exemplify as superior personality traits.

After a steady stream of heroic feats by Michael Ohr, Leigh Anne Tuohy, Collins Tuohy, and Mrs. Boswell, the film closes by focusing on the need for more athletic scholarships for poor black boys. Now I am not against athletic scholarships for poor black boys, but it is not what made Michael Ohr’s life so remarkable. What the film did an excellent job portraying even if they didn’t recognize it was beautiful humanity.

For Michael Ohr is was his ability to resist the drugs and violence that was at his beckoning call his entire life. His ability to remain a sweet, caring, and sensitive young man, despite the enormous pressure to become a callous thug.

For Leigh Anne Tuohy, it was her courage to take a chance on this closed-off young man, her willingness to be hurt, and more so her willingness to believe in and commit to this young man. It was her bravery to tell her socialite friends they were bigots and choose truth over the comfort of social conformity.

For Collins it was taking the chance to become the target of ridicule and being outcast by her high school friends for publicly displaying her acceptance and feelings of kinship for Michael (much like her mother’s dilemma).

It was all of these personal choices to be vulnerable, to be compassionate instead of fearful, and to act in line with truth instead of blending in with the herd that made this a compelling story with a happy ending.

Consider the story of two Michaels, Ohr and Vick. Both come from the projects, both are talented football players. Michael Vick chose to utilize his luck in life to get involved in a major dog-fighting operation, which displays inferior moral aptitude. It shows an orientation towards violence, power, and greed. Michael Ohr’s story to my knowledge is absent of such displays, and does feature traits of hope, generosity, and sensitivity.

My point here is that attitude and personality are what makes this a remarkable story. In classical Chinese philosophy it is said that there are two kinds of luck-the first is what happens to you, the second is what you do with it. This second kind of luck is referring to personality. You win the lottery, congratulations, what do you do with it? Buy a mansion, expensive jewelry and cars? Well, that’s your prerogative, but I will congratulate the person who finds a more virtuous application of her good fortune.

Don’t take this point of “two kinds of luck” to think that I support the concept that poor people today just need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, because that’s bull. I am an advocate and pursuer of social and economic justice. (Consider the juxtaposition of Mr. Tuohy’s wealth coming from owning over 80 fast-food chain restaurants, which pay people minimum wage and sell people disease-causing foods, often concentrated in poor neighborhoods) Nonetheless, character is always important.

This movie, The Blind Side, also unknowingly depicted the flaws of our education system quite well. Michael Ohr had been passed along the public education system until he was accepted into a Christian Academy, most presumably for his athletic promise. Here, Mrs. Boswell became Ohr’s academic champion, looking for ways to engage this young man, but still within the confines of a very traditional curriculum. The things he demonstrated that he understood were just floating facts, disconnected from any relevant experience. Going to college was portrayed primarily as a means to play football, not a place to enrich one’s self in any deep way. It was going to be a party, full of girls and games.

Even when asked if he wants to play football, Ohr replies, “well, I think I am pretty good at it.” Hopefully since then he has discovered what his passions truly are, perhaps football is one of them and perhaps not.

In the end, this incredibly rich story full of heroes and iconoclasts was summarized as a story about football saving a poor black boy’s life. I guess The Blind Side, has its own blind side.

In peace,

Adam

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About Adam Burk

Adam aims to serve the greater good; alleviate unnecessary suffering; and create beautiful, sane human communities in concert with the living planet. Recently, he has helped to rebuild local food systems in Maine in large part through school food services, organized the TEDxDirigo conference, and is a digital organizer with the Institute for Democratic Education in America (IDEA).

Discussion

5 thoughts on “The Blind Side

  1. So many of our stories about education are about kids taking on adults, or about one adult helping kids take on the other adults. I would like to watch a new education mythology of entire communities lifting up all kids. Can you share a bit of narrative about the MFES’s approach to common non-negotiables in practice and how that impacts learning and community for all the school’s students?

    Bestest,
    C

    Posted by Chad Sansing | June 28, 2010, 10:36 am
  2. Hi Adam! Thanks for this thoughtful review.

    When The Blind Side was first published as a book, I asked one of my students if he wanted to do a final project on it, because I thought it was a great example of how instrumental social class is in “shaping” intelligence and our understandings of intellectual “gifts.” (Michael was originally tested as having an IQ of 70, which magically jumped to 110 or 120 after a few years with the Tuohy’s.) So much for innateness. My student found the sports story so compelling that he never got to the research part of the project–looking at Dweck and Duckworth and Murdoch, but what the hell. Maybe the idea of “ability” was just a little bit challenged among my very privileged students, who tended to believe that what they were born with is what they had, and they were there at that elite institution because they were really smart, not because of social class…

    Which brings me to your points. I love the idea of the majesty of this story in the bravery of being willing to be hurt, and to not be hardened by our circumstances, but I still see this as too individualistic an interpretation of the storyline. To me the nugget of the story is not so much Michael Ohr’s individual response to the difficult life he had as a boy (not becoming hard himself), because I see that so much in many students I work with who have lives much like Michael. They’re not hard either. Their vulnerable humanity is almost always present, their softness bubbles up, their wish to be better, even if they’ve just come off a court appointment or a detention or some academic failure. To me the nugget is that there are just so many Michaels, thousands and thousands of them, who never get the gilded Touhy experience–who never get a chance to sleep on the couch that cost 10 thousand dollars, work with private tutors, be treated as if they are real people who really matter and who have potential. All of them.

    Don’t we overemphasize individual response, “character”, in part to absolve ourselves of responsibility for all those who never get a chance?

    I know that’s not what you’re saying Adam, but it just seems so American-paradigmed: It’s attitude. Is it?

    Posted by Kirsten | June 28, 2010, 11:26 am
  3. i’m reading Mindset by Dweck just now.. is that what you’re referring to Kirsten.

    such a freeing concept Dweck explains.
    i’m a maven for equity. growth mindset does just that.
    from all angles.. those who have nothing.. those who are told they have everything..

    Posted by monika hardy | July 1, 2010, 11:48 pm
  4. Hi Monika, So glad you are reading Mindset. Dweck has been important to me for a long time; I’m glad she’s really getting around now. How did you come to her?

    Yes, that’s kind of what I’m talking about, but also there’s a sense of individualism here in Adam’s post, like it’s up to each one of us not to get bitter, not to be hardened by circumstances, to do something heroic . And while I believe that (hey, I’m an American!) it also takes us away from critique of the big institutional circumstances that privilege choice. It’s a balance.

    I was trying to link something in a post to you. What’s your website address woman? I was writing on the inevitability of the educational revolution.

    http://oldsow.wordpress.com/2010/07/06/the-inevitable-revolution/

    Posted by Kirsten Olson | July 6, 2010, 3:24 pm
    • Damn right it’s up to each of us to manage our personalities! I am not talking individualism here, but I am taking a humanistic perspective. That’s not to say that there aren’t shifts in societal trends that are necessary, in fact I mention that to be of significance in my post albeit briefly. Truth be told, each one of us is writing history every day, history is the collection of individual efforts, and in order to change what is to come we must take ownership and responsibility for our piece of the collective. How else are “societal trends” broken or changed in meaningful, progressive ways? It is by enough individuals being autonomous from “groupthink.” This is not to necessarily to be done alone however. Having rigorous dialogue with others who are also practicing deep, penetrating, discerning thinking coupled with expansive compassion, will provide the best chance for progressive, holistic thought to evolve.

      As Viktor Frankl reminds us through his experience in the concentration camps of Nazi Germany, that everything can be taken away from you except one very precious thing, your attitude. It is truly the only thing that one can ever control. From what I have read of Mindset this is also what Dweck has discovered as well, which is in fact a rediscovery of previous understandings. For example, I recommend Confucius’ The Great Learning for contemplation on the role of individual psychology in the affairs of world currents. David Bohm’s Wholeness and the Implicate Order also explores this rather well in the first chapter as does his On Creativity.

      Posted by Adam Burk | July 6, 2010, 5:23 pm

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