Day Two in Freeburg, Illinois --After an afternoon of interviews with students at Freeburg High School, and a presentation to the Freeburg School Board, Ethan and I spent the night at the Econolodge, a hotel about ten miles north of Freeburg in Belleville, Illinois. We returned to the school at 8:30 a.m.the next morning.
We didn't know what was planned for us, but the Superintendent had invited us to come back. We hoped for the opportunity to interview a few teachers, though we didn't believe any faculty interviews were likely. In the last entry I didn't mention that after the student interviews, and before the School Board presentation, we met with another person (who was not a student). That person wanted to speak with Ethan and me, but asked that the conversation be off the record. I can't write about what the person said, and I don't want to over interpret anything that happened in Freeburg, but the fact that we had an off the record conversation about a high school mascot was kind of cool and suggested that maybe the issue of the mascot within Freeburg went deeper than Ethan or I knew. But whatever the conversation meant, it suggested that we shouldn't take for granted that people would want to talk about the mascot.
When we arrived in the parking lot, we were met by the Superintendent and the Principal. After the Principal said good morning, he went off to the athletic fields to deal with some sort of issue. Ethan and I went with the Superintendent back to his office, where we had interviewed students the day before. In the office, the Superintendent told us that that one more student wanted to speak to us. She had missed out on the interviews the day before because of some kind of oversight. The oversight turned out to be a good thing for Ethan and me. Interviewing a student one-on-one as opposed to within a focus group presented a great juxtaposition and suggested to Ethan and me that, at future visits to high schools, we should try to schedule focus groups and one-on-one interviews. Following the student interview, we spent about 30 minutes interviewing the Superintendent. He offered an incredible amount of information valuable to the project. Thank goodness he was happy to talk because it certainly wasn't my finely tuned interviewing skills that drew out the valuable information. At one point, as he was talking, I tried to slip in a follow-up question. Before I could speak, he put up his hand in a halting gesture and said, “With all due respect Gary, please let me finish.” What followed out of his mouth was a lot more important than any question I could have asked. After the Superintendent interview, we met with the Principal for about ten or fifteen minutes, then took a tour of the school with the principal, during which we met a few teachers and said hello to a lot of students.
The most interesting part of the tour happened in the gymnasium. Just as we stepped into the gym, class was letting out. A group of boys who had been playing badminton were making their way to the locker room. One boy who saw us, as soon as he turned the corner into the locker room, said aloud, something to the affect of, 'did you see those midgets?' The principal, who was farther away from the locker room than either Ethan or I, didn't hear him. What the boy said was barely audible to me. But both Ethan and I heard him. The difference between Ethan and me, which underscores the importance of us working on this project together, is that he told the principal what we heard. I didn't want to make the principal uncomfortable. But Ethan knew that this was a spectacular opportunity to point out that students who take pride in a 'midget' mascot aren't immune to using the word in a degrading way. In this case, here was a teenager whose mascot is the 'Mighty Midgets' using the word in a negative way within his own school. At least one of us carried his weight during our trip to Freeburg.
We hit the road immediately after the tour. I picked up a bottle of wine at a local vineyard as a souvenir (it was either the wine or a Freeburg Midget Tee-shirt). The wine was soon confiscated at the Indianapolis airport. Though I may have no souvenir, Ethan and I have a lot of great information, and a little bit of experience, which will help us as we plan for our visits to the five remaining high schools. Once the interviews are sorted out, we will figure how best to present the material. In the meantime, a tremendous thank you to the Freeburg Superintendent who organized so well our visit to the school and the school board. Without him, our first visit, if it happened at all, would never have been so smooth. He gave us insight into how future visits should be set up and gave Ethan and me perspective with which to approach our future visits. Thank yous also go out to the Principal, Assistant Principal and all the students who took time from their day to meet with us.