Walking away from Happy Valley

by | Monday, November 14, 2011

I have been haunted the past week or so with the scandal enveloping Penn State. Much as been written about it already – and I really have nothing fundamentally new to offer to this discussion. What I did want to share was a parallel that struck me recently about these terrible events and a lovely yet horrifying short story I had read a long time ago.

“The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” (Variations on a theme by William James) is a haunting short story by Ursula K. Le Guin. It is a short, sparse story, almost a parable, with almost no distinct characters.

It is about a beautiful city called Omelas, a city of happy people unburdened by any pain or sorrow. But this happiness is the result of a faustian bargain—a bargain where the happiness of all is dependent on having one child bear all the pain and sorrow of the entire city. This child lives in a dark, basement room, neglected and in constant pain. The story says that many people, though initially shocked, learn to accept this and seek to lead fruitful lives in Omelas. However, the story concludes that, there are always a few, who walk away, from the city, never to return. The story asks the question of whether it is, “right for the happiness of many to be built on pain and sorrow for one.”

I know that my synopsis does not do justice to the story. Do read it for yourself right here. Yes, right now. I can wait.

OK. Welcome back. Now wasn’t that a great story. I truly think it is one of the greatest stories ever written (at lease one of the greatest I have ever read).

So now coming back to the sorry state of affairs at Penn State. It seems to me that the Happy Valley in some sense struck a bargain similar to the one in the story. The entire football and university staff who knew or suspected what was going on chose to turn a blind eye to what was going on. The graduate assistant who stumbled upon the scene in the showers chose to let the child suffer to protect the good name of the program. The suffering of one child was worth it in exchange for maintaining the reputation of the football team or the University. The students who rioted after the firing of Joe Paterno were willing to make the same choice as well.

This is truly sad. I just hope that in the days and weeks to come, more and more people will have the courage to walk away from the Omelas.

Topics related to this post: Fiction | Personal | Philosophy | Worth Reading

A few randomly selected blog posts…

Rich TPACK Cases: Great Resource Book

Rich TPACK Cases: Great Resource Book

The TPACK framework is a theoretical framework that seeks to influence practice. And most gratifyingly (for Matt Koehler and myself) it appears to have had a significant impact in that area. That said, the field lacked concrete, rich examples of TPACK in...

The value of research

A few years ago I was asked to talk to some major donors of the College as a part of the kick-off of the MSU Capital Campaign. The text below is what I had written out prior to giving the talk. It is not an exact transcript of what I actually said, since I...

The gift that keeps on giving, or Why I love the web

I recently received this email: Dear Mr. Mishra, I am currently working on a poetry research project for school, and one of the requirements is researching five different poets. While looking for people who wrote palindromic poetry, I found your website and decided to...

STEM Ed & Robotics: A foreword

STEM Ed & Robotics: A foreword

Vikram Kapila is a professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at NYU Tandon School of Engineering. Vikram and his research associate Purvee Chauhan recently published a book titled STEM Education with Robotics: Lessons from Research and...

New webinar on TPACK

Matt Koehler and I recently participated on a webinar titled Teachers as Designers of Technology, Pedagogy, and Content (TPACK) organized by edWeb.net and Commonsense Education. We had over 200+ viewers from all over the world (New Zeeland, Israel, Morroco, Canada...

TPACK @ AMTE

Maggie Niess has a new piece titled Knowledge Needed for Teaching With Technologies – Call it TPACK published in the spring 08 issue of AMTE Connections. For those of you who don’t know, AMTE stands for the Association of Mathematics Teacher Educators and you can find...

A great honor: 10 most influential people in Ed Tech

I just found out that I made "The Big 10: The Most Influential People in EdTech for 2011." This list is created by the Tech & Learning journal—a magazine for Ed Tech leaders. This news came  as a total surprise to me since I did not know that I was even in the...

The intangibles of teaching

Jim Garrison and A. G. Rud have a wonderful article on TCRecord on Reverence in Classroom Teaching. Though, reverence may be "too exalted a word to associate with the practical and often mundane activities of teaching," it appears to me that ignoring these deeper...

Untangling a decade of creativity scholarship

Untangling a decade of creativity scholarship

How do we capture a program of scholarship in an image? This is particularly complicated when the work is a tangled web of connections between research, teaching and practice, spread out over multiple publications, presentations and people. One attempt to do...

1 Comment

  1. Mike Hasley

    Interesting thoughts. I’m going to read the story next and pass it on to friends I have in State College. I’m not disagreeing with your post, I just heard another theory as to why so many people turned a blind eye. Folks like Paterno and such wanted to protect the goodness of Penn State, the institution. They knew the good it did and didn’t want this to hurt it. So, they acted unethically. It was said for the Catholic church scandal, too. Just an interesting idea.

    Good luck against Wisconsin!

    Reply

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Walking Away…. « Amy J Nichols – The Things I Do - [...] out the depressing details of the story as they emerged with so many people. I think this blog post, and…

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *