Scott Cawelti

About Scott Cawelti -

Scott Cawelti was born and raised in Cedar Falls, Iowa. He taught writing, film, and literature at the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) from 1968-2008, and has written regular opinion columns and reviews for the Waterloo / Cedar Falls Courier since the late 1970s.  He played for years in a folk duo with Robert James Waller and still regularly performs as a singer/guitarist/songwriter. Scott continues to teach as an adjunct instructor at UNI.

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  • On Fraternities and Sororities

    • Posted on Dec 01, 1978 by Scott Cawelti

    12/01/78

    Hyperactive kids, they say, are given uppers to slow them down, and slow kids are given downers to speed them up. It seems kids have nervous systems that are inside out, or upside down, so they are given just the opposite drug of what normal adults need.

    In the same way, going to college makes some (maybe even most) people smarter, but for some college students, it has just the opposite effect—they get dumber as they get closer to graduation.

    These students should be put on assembly lines or gas station drives to get smart, because college sure doesn't do it.

    One system that fosters the growth of dumb are the Greek social fraternities and Sororities. These groups wax big on secret rituals, cutesy handshakes, drunken parties and bad music like "Sweetheart of Sigma Chi." They manage to take perfectly smart, sensitive freshman students and turn them, in just a year or two, into idiots who blather about pledge tricks, parties, formals, parties, brotherhood, parties, sisterhood, parties, service, parties and toga parties.

    These poor Greeks gradually get so dumb they lose all sense of the world outside of their Alphas and Omegas.

    Take the recent theft of 8,000 Northern Iowans on the UNI campus. Now any reasonably smart person knows that you can't stop news by stealing newspapers, right? I mean, even a C-minus student would know that. In fact, anybody could figure out who had something to lose by the publication of a stolen issue, and would trace the theft to those about whom the unflattering news story had been written. (Especially when that group called in and threatened to "stop publication" because of the news story.)

    BUT THE Greeks, growing dumber by the semester, just went right ahead and threatened. The 8,000 copies of the Northern Iowan were stolen. I guess whoever did it hoped that no one would learn of the news story that told of a sorority being disaffiliated from the national, supposedly because of drug use in the chapter house. Of course, the news was examined twice as carefully because of the theft; indeed, the whole Greek system again has come under closer scrutiny.

    As I say, if students in fraternities and sororities want to get smart, they've got to quit college and get into factories and gas stations. College is only making them dumber.

    Before I get into trouble with all the Greeks out there for condemning all fraternity and sorority people as dumb, let me say no to that right now.   Some fraternity and sorority members start college smart, or half smart, and they get smarter as they go through, and it all works just fine. But they get smarter, that is they get a real education--but largely in spite of their Greek affiliation, not because of it.

    If they embrace the Greek system, meaning live by it and for it, they can only grow dumber.  

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    • Education
  • School Spirit, Innocence, and the Fifties

    • Posted on Oct 27, 1978 by Scott Cawelti

    10/27/78

    Recently some brave young high school soul gave the Tiger Hi-Line newspaper editor a letter on school spirit. You may have read it—she had to remain anonymous because she wanted to live past her senior year.

    Her letter said, simply and in so many words, that school spirit is a hoax, and the smart students know it. What difference does winning a football game make after a year?  she asked.

    The following week, several letters in the Tiger Hi-Line attacked her (rather predictably, I thought) for not enjoying high school, football and her life. The writers urged her and other smart students to get with it and support the good ol' Tigers and the spirit behind them.

    All of which reminded me of my days at CF High, some 18 years ago, and the burning questions of my high school years.

    As I recall, school spirit was barely a question, much less a burning one. This was because there was, in fact, quite enough school spirit. In those days, there weren't many smart students who saw the idea of school spirit as a hoax. Some didn't support the team very much, but only out of laziness or apathy, not out of conviction. Most students just yelled themselves hoarse at every pep rally and hoped for a win Friday night.

    Still, there were in fact some burning questions. Here they are, in the order of their heat, lukewarm to white-hot:

    —How much do I have to drink before I can act drunk? This was a warm one because if you drank too much you really were drunk, and this meant clean-up problems, parent problems and a nasty morning. But if you didn't drink enough, everybody knew you were faking. I remember 3-4 beers or 2-3 hard drinks in an hour or less was about the right answer.

    —Where do you go with a date when you can't get a car? This was a hotter one, and the answers ranged from the back row at the Regent to Teen Time to: steal a car.

    —How many dates do you have to have before you can touch much? And how much can you touch? And for how long? These questions were all burningly related, and we managed to find answers before we graduated. The smart students did, anyway.

    —DOES SHE or doesn't she? This was a hot question, for in those days, we weren't referring to Clairol. It was something more basic. Funny, we never thought to ask "does he or doesn't he?" The basics only applied to she.

    —Will you or won't you? This was the most burning question of all, the question most asked and least really answered. Whole nights were spent wheedling, begging, imploring, commanding, crying this question out. Sometimes it was all to no avail, but sometimes (if memory serves)  to avail.

    Songs like "Don't Forbid Me" by Pat Boone and Elvis's "Don't" and "Let Me" helped us ask this white-hot question. Again, only males seemed to ask it.

    Way down the line were the questions that Dylan gave voice to when he asked, "How many roads must a man walk down, before you call him a man?" When I was in high school, we didn't think about such questions.


    Nobody had heard of Lee Harvey Oswald or My Lai or Kent State. We believed in school spirit just as we believed in America, policemen, the President, and Winning. Nothing was a hoax then.

    So no matter how hard we tried, in the late Fifties it was impossible to lose our innocence.

    It took the Sixties to do that.

     

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    • Graduation
    • Education
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