Changes in Perception

Changes in Perception

In the early 1990s, when I was a student at Verona Area High School, the school district dropped its “Indian” mascot as the Great Lakes Intertribal Council was seeking a statewide ban of such names. At that time, more than sixty districts around the state used some kind of mascot related to Native Americans. Verona residents were—as a former colleague of mine in Missouri used to say—honked off. Some 1,500 of them petitioned the school board, arguing the mascot was respectful and a deeply held symbol of courage and pride.

I don’t question what the Indian mascot meant to them, but two decades later you don’t have to drive very far in Verona before seeing a minivan sporting a “Wildcats” sticker. A local bowling alley even adopted the name somewhere along the way. It’s a lesson for the three-dozen Wisconsin schools still using nicknames like Redmen, Flying Arrows and Hatchets that may have to retire them due to a new law that allows those offended by those names to challenge them to the state Department of Public Instruction. The point is that the damage to Verona’s pride people said would happen—well, it didn’t. A mascot doesn’t give pride to a community or school, or lead it to success. It’s the students, parents, teachers and coaches who make that happen. That’s a good lesson for all of us.

There’s been a lot of ink devoted to the rise of the Tea Party movement, but one of the most entertaining entries came from Wisconsin conservative blogger and Isthmus contributor Christian Schneider, who blogged about his “Tips for a better Tea Party” and took aim at the DJs for the group’s rallies. “Not all conservatives like country music. Just stop it.”

I’d like to hand out a Best of Madison award in the category of best quote by a politician. The winner: Governor Jim Doyle, who said what many Madisonians feel when asked why he didn’t hold additional public hearings about where to locate the city’s train station. “Madison can public hearing things to death.”

Championship sports teams usually win an invitation to the White House and a photo op with the president. Barack Obama hasn’t changed that tradition, but he is creating a new category of VIPs who will get the same privilege. The White House will sponsor a science fair for students nationwide and the winners will get the same invitation as the sports stars. Obama says the goal is to show kids “how cool science can be.” I remain hopeful—perhaps foolishly in this climate—that the idea will somehow not become a partisan issue.

Republican gubernatorial candidates Mark Neumann and Scott Walker (or their campaign operatives) have both settled on a word they like to use to describe a proposed rail line between Madison and Milwaukee: boondoggle. Not the most current reference. The meaning of the word—a project that wastes time and money—apparently sprang from a 1935 New York Times story that uncovered $3 million in New Deal spending on dancing lessons and crafts classes for the unemployed. Maybe Democratic candidate Tom Barrett, who supports rail, should start referring to the train project as “the bee’s knees.”

There is no doubt, sadly, that some people in Wisconsin will drive drunk over the Fourth of July holiday weekend. Not all of them will be caught, unfortunately, but those arrested for their first OWI offense face nothing more serious than a traffic violation. We’re still the only state in the nation where it’s not a criminal charge. That’s beyond pathetic. A bill that would have changed the law went nowhere in the state legislature this session. If you see your state representative or senator walking in your hometown parade this summer, ask them why not.

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