The silence is deafening.
In a state that claims to care about public education, where residents of communities from Greenwich to Granby attend board meetings, write letters to their local papers, and lend their support to school events, why is everyone ignoring one of the most glaring education crises in the state?
I’m talking, of course, about the University of Connecticut, the state’s flagship university, which graduates 31 percent of its men’s basketball players (25 percent of African Americans), pays its head coach $2.3 million (the state’s highest paid employee), and is currently on probation for recruiting violations. It gets worse.
By all accounts, Kemba Walker, the team’s point guard who played better than anyone else in the nation this past season and who will enter the NBA Draft this summer, is a good guy. Always with a smile on his face, Walker will go down as one of the greatest Huskies of all time, thanks to a junior season where he averaged 23.6 points per game and led UConn to its third national championship. Surely, Walker will be remembered for having one of the best college basketball seasons of all time. In my book, however, he’ll also be remembered for something I never thought I’d see, even at UConn. We’ll let Sports Illustrated tell the story:
Even before that Walker had begun trying to complete himself in ways that underscore the danger of painting any college basketball program—even one that will go on probation immediately after winning the national title—in broad, cynical strokes. Last spring Walker approached UConn academic counselor Felicia Crump and asked her to help him figure out how to earn his degree in sociology so that he could enter the draft this year and still graduate. Together they built a schedule that required Walker to take courses last summer in Storrs and then a full load in both the fall and the spring. “We’re talking about a young man who was just an average high school student, at best, and who had always been more concerned with basketball,” says Crump. “I told him, ‘If you can do this, you’ll leave behind a legacy that’s more important than anything you do on the basketball court.’”
Walker took schoolwork with him throughout the Big East and NCAA tournaments, completing short required papers while postponing tests until after the season. He met with his campus tutor on Skype. And in his travel pack is a copy of New York Times columnist William C. Rhoden’s Forty Million Dollar Slaves: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of the Black Athlete, a book that Crump encouraged Walker to read as part of an independent study class on racism in sports. Before the Final Four, Crump suggested that Rhoden’s book would be the first that Walker had ever made it through cover-to-cover. After the win over Kentucky, Walker confirmed this. “That’s true,” he said. “You can write that. It is the first book I’ve ever read.”
The first book he ever read? Where the heck is the outrage? Where are all the blowhards who show up at meetings and write letters to the papers whining about their local school districts? Why are these people silent when it comes to our state’s largest academic institution? Kemba Walker spends three years at UConn and just now he’s reading his first book? How is that possible?
I’ll tell you how it’s possible. Because the aforementioned blowhards aren’t really concerned about public education. They just like hearing themselves talk. They like picking up the newspaper in the morning and seeing their name in print. If they really cared about public education, they’d be all over this one. If I’m wrong, please tell me why we haven’t heard a peep from these people regarding the UConn story.
To be fair, this label doesn’t apply to everyone. There are plenty of people who genuinely care about their schools. They care about sending their kids to good schools and they care about property values. These people are right to be ticked off about public education. Trust me, there are plenty of things our schools are doing wrong. People have a right to be upset. The vast majority of state residents fit this profile.
But there are also those people who whine about everything, for no other reason, or so it appears, other than to hear themselves talk or to see their name in print. They must get a kick out of this. The UConn story is proof. The blowhards, and trust me I reserve that title for a very select few, don’t speak publically about this one because they feel that in the crowded dialogue of state issues, no one would pay any attention. If I’m wrong, then explain to me the deafening silence. Instead of writing letters to the editor demanding accountability, they throw a parade. What exactly is this state celebrating?
Again, three years at UConn and one book.
As my colleague Chris Lovermi said a few weeks ago, Connecticut residents always bemoan the fact that there’s no professional sports team in the state. Well folks, it looks like we have one.