Conflict, Contradiction, and Contrarian Elements in Moral Development and Education

By Larry Nucci | Go to book overview

3
Who in the World Am I?
Reflecting on the Heart
of Teaching
William Ayers
University of Illinois at Chicago

In the opening scene of the Cohen brothers film Miller's Crossing(Cohen & Cohen, 1990), Johnny Caspar says, “I'm talkin' about friendship. ” Johnny, a two-bit thug, is struggling to explain to the big crime boss, Leo, how he's been wronged by an associate mobster, Bernie Bernbaum. The camera lingers on the repulsive and horrifying Johnny—we see the frothy saliva forming in the creases of his thin, menacing smile; we watch him sweat. We are fascinated and disgusted by his insistent physicality and the bizarre case he presents.

“I'm talkin' about character, ” he pleads. “I'm talkin' about—hell, Leo, I ain't embarrassed to use the word—I'm talkin' about ethics” (or, as pronounced by Johnny, “e-tics”).

Johnny is indeed talking about ethics. Apparently, Bernie Bernbaum is a cheat and a liar. “When I fix a fight, ” Johnny proceeds indignantly, “Say I play a three-to-one favorite to throw a goddam fight. I got a right to expect the fight to go off at three-to-one. ” Then Bernie Bernbaum hears of the deal, manipulates the situation, brings in out-of-town money, and “the odds go straight to hell. ”

“It's gettin' so a businessman can't expect no return from a fixed fight, ” complains Johnny. “Now, if you can't trust a fix, what can you trust?” Without ethics, “we're back into anarchy, right back in the jungle … That's why

-53-

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