“Courage is moving beyond fear; it is having the strength to venture and persevere.”
Sometimes intellectual and moral courage makes you an object of scorn and derision. Galileo experienced that. So did Martin Luther King Jr. But scholars and thinkers who pursue the truth know they will sometimes face headwinds. The Core Virtues nominee for intellectual and moral courage this month is Stephen B. Levine, M.D. of Case Western Reserve University. Dr. Levine, an American psychiatrist, is renowned for his five decades of work in human sexuality and gender dysphoria (discomfort in the sex of one’s birth). His expertise is of great relevance currently.
In the past fifteen years, we have seen a huge uptick in pre-pubescent and teen girls who are experiencing what has been termed “rapid onset gender dysphoria.” Two decades ago, gender dysphoria was extremely rare – afflicting approximately one in ten thousand children. Those afflicted were generally little boys who identified as girls, eighty percent of whom outgrew the disorder by age eighteen. But since 2010, the incidence of gender dysphoria claims has sky-rocketed, and the fastest growing segment is pre-teen and teen girls. One in five 13–17-year-olds are identifying themselves as transgender, and the vast majority are girls who showed no sign of gender confusion in their early childhood. One Core Virtues school reported that four of their fifth-grade girls had recently declared themselves “trans” in class. These are eleven-year-olds who believe their identity and future does not lie in adult womanhood. They are changing their hairstyles, names, and pronouns, and thinking about binding their budding breasts. Do they know the next step in this journey is puberty blockers, then eventually cross-sex hormone treatments, which will lead to sterility?
Many schools are struggling with how to respond to what appears to be a phenomenon driven by social media and peer groups. Dr. Levine’s work in the field of transgender care is extensive and exemplary. His presentation to the Pennsylvania State Legislature, which was considering funding for youth transgender care, is a clear-eyed and courageous presentation of what we know and what we don’t know about transgenderism and best treatment. He is taking a lot of heat for it. At a time when many physicians are accepting patient self-diagnosis and providing (lucrative) “gender-affirming” treatment even for minors, Dr. Levine takes a hard look at the evidence. He urges respect and compassion, but cautions against social affirmation as the best response for those under 18, and believes this may trap vulnerable young people in a life of diminished prospects. Bravo to him for the courage to speak truthfully about a profoundly troubling national phenomenon.
Mary Beth Klee
NB: Dr. Levine's presentation constitutes the first 52 minutes of this 1:27 minute hearing and constitutes the key material.
My husband was the inadvertent poster child for perseverance that night. He piloted us through three hours safely. Throughout the drive I could hear my granddaughter shouting at me, “Perseverance is not my best virtue!” During the summer I’d urged her to summon that excellence and keep swimming towards me across what to her seemed an impossibly long stretch of bay. She made it. A short swim. Like our short drive.
But now the real work of perseverance begins for so many. Starting from scratch. Rebuilding. Summoning reserves of resolve, diligence, and hope. Staying focused for the long haul as we work to restore homes, businesses, and lives. It’s hard to persevere when life has become a mucky slog, rather than a terrifying adventure.
For many, it’s about waiting an hour in their overheated cars in ninety degree weather as they queue up for food. Yesterday, in one part of Naples, Our Daily Bread, Al’s Pals, and the Salvation Army gave out more than 300 free meals, bags of food, and grocery store gift certificates for families ranging from two to ten people. Families who’d lost their homes, their livelihoods. Many of them had English as their second language. The lines stretched out the high school parking lot and moved at a snail’s pace. But people waited and received with gratitude and good grace.
I have had stellar examples of perseverance in my life. My mother was a prisoner of war during World War II, and for three years endured captivity, disease, cruelty, and starvation in a Japanese internment camp in Manila. She was full of stories about enduring and outwitting hunger (she kept a recipe book) and boredom (though study and shows), surviving diphtheria and beriberi, and occasionally outwitting their captors. She weighed ninety pounds when liberated and stood 5’4.
In 2015 I attended a seventieth anniversary event for the liberation of the camp, and a high school student asked one of the surviving internees (then in her late 80s) whether she or others had been tempted to suicide in the face of such a struggle. The girl admitted that she herself sometimes had suicidal thoughts and had endured no such tragedy. Mrs. Bennett looked surprised at the question. “No, no, we didn’t,” she said. “I don’t know anyone who thought of suicide. We had each other and we never lost hope. We knew, we just knew our boys would come and liberate us.” And they did.
Perseverance is not a flashy virtue. It's about putting one foot in front of the other again and again -- hour after hour, day after day, and sometimes year after year. But, as Joan Bennett reminded us, perseverance is closely related to hope. And friends along the way. Barry had the hope of finding his family and the companionship of Cruz. Internees had the hope of freedom and the unfailing support of each other. The Hispanic and Haitian-born Naples needy have the perennial hope of the American dream, a better life in this new country they’ve adopted, and they’ve got the help of each other, along with volunteers and organizations who roll up their sleeves and say “we’re all in this together.” So, to quote a sage, “let us persevere in running the race that lies before us.”
Mary Beth Klee
To contribute to Florida disaster relief, your help is needed at https://www.volunteerflorida.org/donatefdf/
At this point teachers and children are fully immersed in their academic labors, but it’s hard, isn’t it? The golden light of summer still surrounds us. Weekends permit last, longed-for visits to the beach. Sunsets come earlier and evenings are cooler, but our hearts still leap as those orange, purple, and amber rays tint the water’s edge.
Every September I marvel at the wisdom of our “Labor Day” holiday as the first Monday of September. In Europe and most other parts of the world, the holiday is celebrated on May 1, a time when the world’s working population is getting ready to frolic. Spring is in the air; summer will soon arrive and vacation allow them respite. In the U.S. alone, we place that holiday with its cookouts and picnics just before we start to labor in earnest: September.
Samuel Gompers, President of the American Federation of Labor who lobbied for the establishment of the federal holiday reminded us that “it differs essentially from some of the other holidays of the year in that it glorifies no armed conflicts or battles of man’s prowess over man,” but instead, celebrates hard work and human dignity, promotes “a nobler manhood, womanhood, and childhood, which may look forward to the day of deliverance from absurd economic conditions and cruel burdens.”
In the century since the holiday’s inception, Americans have broadened the significance of Labor Day to include not simply organized labor but the dignity of all labor. September itself, as any teacher can tell you, is hard work. It is the daily demand of the alarm clock, the lesson plans prepared, the notebooks and schoolbooks ready to go, the lunch packed before you walk out the door. It is eight hours of leading a charge, confronting the expected and unexpected. It is busy and buzzing concentration in class, exuberant shouts, strides, and races on the playground. It is meeting fretful parents in the parking lot. It is exhausting… It is exhilarating. It is labor.
Established in 1894 by Grover Cleveland’s administration, Labor Day came at a time when working conditions in steel factories, coal mines, and railyards were abysmal. Yet Gompers declared “our labor movement has no system to crush. It has nothing to overturn. It purposes to build up, to develop, to rejuvenate humanity.” (NY Times, Sep 4, 1910) He envisioned that progress through the work of unions, which advocated for an eight hour day, restrictions on child labor, wage security, safer working conditions and much more.
How does it build us up – develop and rejuvenate our humanity? In this post-pandemic September, I suspect that most teachers have their answer right in front of them. The children are thrilled to be back to in person learning, so excited to be together, with their new and old friends, with their teachers, with real people and real purpose all around them. There is still anxiety: are we past this Covid thing? But there is no question that our labors are contributing to student wellbeing, growth and recently rediscovered social humanity. We are back to rejuvenating humanity.
And as for the children, it is worth letting them know that their labors are honored and important—that their efforts contribute to building a better world. Because they certainly do labor: September is remembering to do homework, having mom wake them up way too early, packing the homework as well as schoolbooks, recalling the lunch, getting to the bus stop on time, and then re-immersing themselves in all those class demands and rules – among them respect for their classmates and responsibility for the shared experience of school community life. Respect, responsibility, friendship – the great labors of September.
We’re standing on a new shore. Hopefully, rested from our leisure and fortified by one last trip to the beach, we’re ready to dive right in.
Mary Beth Klee
NB: Our Core Virtues website features many books on the Labor Day tab that speak to the dignity of labor – and especially how children have helped to build our country.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.