Ken Caryl Middle School – “Go Tell the Spartans”

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Raised on Nebraska farmland, my wife and I spent our first ten years together in Los Angeles before moving our growing family to Colorado. We have made our home in the same Littleton, CO area for forty years now. Some of our children chose to remain here and now we have grandchildren attending the same schools where we once had parent teacher conferences.

One of our granddaughters now goes to middle school only a few blocks from where we raised a family. In idle conversation with her one afternoon after school, I noticed a flyer in her notebook advertising a school function, “Spartan Night”.

Something seemed off. She attends Ken Caryl Middle School and I didn’t remember a “Spartan” mascot. While my memory has its issues, a bit like using a hard of hearing near sighted librarian to search a barely legible card catalog, it does usually serve its purpose, though tardily.

A day or so later, I remembered the Ken Caryl Middle School mascot being The Crusaders, not The Spartans. The thought police are coming for my grandkids! Oh good grief! You may be sure that to be a translation from the vernacular actually used when memory belatedly served.

How did this happen? Of course anyone who lived through the George Floyd contretemps of the Covid Interregnum has suspicions, but give me a break! What do 12th Century French knights have to do with our irredeemably racist country’s past that must be erased? To be sure the tunics of the Knights Templar do bear superficial resemblance to the robes of the Klu Klux Klan.

Before the election of Donald Trump, there was a tabloid, the “National Enquirer”. This disreputable relic of scandal sheet journalism’s era was the main source for dirt for those of us addicted to looking under rugs, peeking behind curtains. Their tagline, “Enquiring minds want to know”, said it all. The election of President Trump killed that once disreputable tabloid as the front page of the New York Times became indistinguishable from the Enquirer’s.

But still, “Enquiring minds do want to know”. I called on Rabbi Google to search for information on the particulars of Ken Caryl’s mascot change. I am not a particularly skilled or patient researcher, but I couldn’t find anything.  One begins to believe those rumors and stories about search engine censorship. But in this instance I persevered and patience was rewarded.

I found a website,, featuring background. In 2016, “a concerned district family” objected to Ken Caryl Middle School’s “Christian mascot”. This anonymous guardian of the U.S. Constitution’s 1st Amendment safeguards filed their objection with the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF).

The FFRF has been protecting the minds of impressionable little children from God since 1978. It also has a side gig, being a well known and prolific provider of women’s scholarships – to abortion clinics. What the business of infanticide and “protecting” the minds of its survivors from “brain washing” have in common remains a mystery.

The FFRF sent a 3 page letter protesting this outrageous violation of Church and State separation to Mr. Dan McMinimee, Superintendent of Jeffco Public Schools. The letter was an exposition of dubious historical analysis liberally seasoned with questionable constitutional interpretation, but no matter as this incontinent verbiage was simply the velvet glove over the frequently mentioned iron hand of the legal consequences promised.

It must be said that Mr. McMinimee was a lightning rod in his brief tenure as Superintendent of Jefferson Schools a decade past. In 2013, presaging the 2016 election of Donald Trump Jefferson County voters revolted, breaking the teacher’s union iron grip on the school board. These newly elected infidels had the temerity to hire Mr. McMinimee as the new Superintendent of Jefferson County Schools. One knew from the outset that trouble loomed as he had been the Asst. Superintendent for Douglas County Schools. Douglas County is the bete noire of Colorado’s educational establishment, the lone conservative outpost remaining in the blue urban sea of Colorado’s Front Range.

“Hell hath no fury like a Teacher’s Union scorned”. Dan McMinimee’s short time as Superintendent reminded one of Chinese Gordon (Charlton Heston) in the movie, Khartoum. “Public school activists”, the Denver Post, Colorado Public Radio, social media and local news stations reacted like the warriors of al-Mahdi’s fanatics to the British presence in Khartoum.

Students protested in the streets causing traffic jams, school board member’s Facebook posts were scrutinized, teachers protested the “politicization” of the curriculum. The media acted as the obsequious handmaiden in the branding of the first ever non-union approved school board as an “extreme right wing Christian fundamentalist” takeover of Jefferson County schools.

Hardly a year passed before a well funded union sponsored petition drive forced a school board recall election. To no one’s surprise, the three “radical” school board members were replaced with reliable foot soldiers. Superintendent McMinimee stood alone, reporting to a School Board dedicated to firing him, surrounded by a hostile administrative staff seeking to rid themselves of this “mote in their eye”.

Within a few months of the recall election, the letter from the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) protesting a ”Christian mascot” at Ken Caryl Middle School arrives. It is early 2016 and Superintendent McMinimee is fighting for his job under a new school board, a school board determined to fire him. One wonders at the curious timing of the “concerned parent’s” letter and their particular concerns voiced in the letter from FFRF, juxtaposed against the concerted union effort at this time to oust Dan McMinimee.

“What to do?” If McMinimee ignores the letter or fights it, FFRF will file suit. Involving JeffCo in a messy legal action reported through the lens of an implacably hostile media will give the school board its excuse. The charge of forcing Christianity into the classroom is sensitive, a relentless theme sounded by the union in the School Board recall. This is probably not “the hill” for the Superintendent to die on. As a triumphant FFRF PR release puts it two weeks later:

“The Freedom From Religious Foundation is killing off a crusading public school mascot. . . . .

The school district indicated in a recent response that it would be heeding FFRF’s advice.”

The underline in the above PR release is mine. I just admire the playful play on words.

The PR release goes on to say that “the district is in the process of forming a diverse group of parents, students staff and community members to develop a new mascot/logo …” Of course, nothing succeeds like success. Blood in the water only attracts more sharks. Barely a month later the FFRF sends another letter. It seems that a Dakota Ridge High School teacher showed a video questioning “doctrinaire” evolutionary theory – “Unlocking the Mysteries of Life”.

Shortly thereafter, FFRF has another triumphant PR release. Another scalp on its belt. A losing battle can only end one way. The denouement of “Khartoum” features a grinning Moslem warrior standing at the top of a staircase holding the dripping head of Chinese Gordon aloft to the cheering Sudanese dervishes in the courtyard below. So too Dan McMinimee.

While I don’t know Dan McMinimee and have no idea of who he is as a person, I feel sorry for his treatment and ashamed of the school board’s actions. I am even more ashamed of my fellow citizens in Jefferson County and their pusillanimous response to a transparent and obviously orchestrated smear campaign.

But what of that “diverse group” charged with finding a new more suitable mascot/logo for Ken Caryl Middle School? I must be honest and admit my cynical superego translates “diverse group” as “political activists seeking to subvert cultural norms”. But in due time this “diverse group” settled on the “Spartans” as a suitable replacement for the “Crusaders”.

Divorced from the sordid circumstances necessitating this charade, the choice of “Spartans” is unremarkable, a close cousin to “Crusaders” in the popular imagination. Both refer to heroic warriors in the past of Western Civilization. Both are members of militaristic societies renowned for defending Western Civilization from invasion by Levantine/Oriental militaristic societies. And to satisfy the demands of FFRF prompted by a “concerned parent”, the Spartans are definitely not Christian.

The fine distinctions condemning European warriors defending their Holy Land from Islamic subjugation while exalting European warriors defending Greece from Persians intent on subjugation are ecclesiastical in nature; and of a faith foreign to my understanding. Though I must admit puzzlement at the same world view deploring and condemning Crusader efforts to free their Holy Land while at the same time celebrating and encouraging aboriginal American efforts to recapture their holy lands in the lands of the Deplorables. Another conundrum.

But the Spartans remain a fine choice if a non-Christian mascot is required. At least the “diverse group” did not pick the “Janissaries”. The popular conception of the Spartans is of Thermopylae as captured in the movie “300”. They certainly captured my imagination as a boy growing up on the farm. Due to a lack of social media, as well as playmates, I grew up reading old books in our grade school library. I thrilled to Leonidas at Thermopylae, Roland at Roncesvalles, Sir Galahad & King Arthur of the Round Table, Bowie & Travis at the Alamo, Chard & Bromhead at Rorke’s Drift.

It was King Leonidas and his 300 Spartan hoplites who fought and died within the Hot Gates of Thermopylae holding the line against an army reputed by Herodotus to number a million. Their sacrifice bought the time necessary for the Athenians to evacuate Athens and mobilize their fleet. The crucial Athenian naval victory at Salamis would not have been possible without Thermopylae. And it was the heavy infantry of the Spartan phalanx that destroyed the Persian army of Xerxes at Plataea, sounding the death knell of Persia’s ill-fated invasions of Europe and ending the greatest crisis in the rise of Western Civilization.

Some 25 years after Thermopylae, Herodotus traveled through the pass at Thermopylae. In his Histories, he records a stone monument raised there to the Spartan heroes. The legend engraved on it is a line from a poem by Simonides in their honor. The words have always excited the emotions of young men while warming the hearts of their grandfathers.

“Go, tell the Spartans, you who pass by, That here, obedient to their laws, we lie.”

But then the battle honors, the tales of heroism attached to the Knights Templar of the Crusades are equally magnificent. Modern opprobrium requiring their expunging from the record arises out of the back story, the morality attached to the whys and wherefores. Did they beat their wives? Were they diverse? Inclusive and respectful of marginal lifestyles? Where they – dare I say it – racist?

For some time the Crusaders have been a convenient whipping boy for a diverse collection of critics for a wide variety of reasons. Most prominent are those eager to discredit Christianity, often aligned with those seeking to beat the drums of anger at racist white Europeans however deluded their assumptions. It is true enough that the Crusaders have sins to answer.

But while the popular picture of the Spartans is Thermopylae, a heroic deed by heroic men, there was much more to their story. Just fifty years after Thermopylae, there was the Peloponnesian War that lasted for 30 bloody years. Before the study of history became the catalog to celebrate the obscure, most students would have had at least a passing acquaintance with Thucydides, a general in that war. Along with Herodotus, he is remembered as the Father of History. Thucydides wrote a history of the Peloponnesian War, the great war between Sparta and Athens. Thucydides documents Spartan atrocities exceeding anything of which the Crusaders are accused.

Perhaps there is no greater sin in the modern Decalogue than slavery. To enslave an entire race of people, to enslave someone because of their ethnic identity is automatic condemnation to the hottest fires of Hell. There is no recourse for such. How many statues have been toppled, books burned, memories expunged because a great figure of the past was born in Virginia, or if from further north, did not condemn with greater fervor.

To the credit of those now known as the Crusaders, they did not enslave those they conquered. But did that “diverse group” of carefully selected worthies at Ken Caryl Middle School understand that the Spartans were slavers extraordinaire? The Spartans were such a powerful and practiced military because Sparta is the only Greek state of the time with a professional army. The armies of Athens and all the other Greek cities were made up of a “national guard”- citizen soldiers doing their duty in time of war.

It was different in Sparta. Male Spartans were prohibited any trade or profession other than that of hoplite, the Spartan infantryman who fought in phalanx formation. The Spartans were able to dedicate all their time and energy to the practice of the warrior arts because their society was supported by a very large population of their fellow Greeks whom they had enslaved. This race of slaves was called the Helots and outnumbered their Spartan masters many many times over.

Sometime around the City of Rome’s founding by the twin brothers of Romulus and Remus, the people of Sparta had begun the conquest of their neighbors known as the Messenes. At the same time in Israel as the prophet Isaiah was fruitlessly calling his people back to God, the Spartans were enslaving an entire race of people, who were renamed Helots.

By the time King Leonidas marched to Thermopylae, the Helots had been enslaved for 250 years. For 12 generations the Messene’s had been slaves, given no hope of anything else simply because they were Messene’s. They were the servants, the field hands, the craftsmen, the shopkeepers, the packhorses carrying the Spartan hoplite’s baggage to and from the battlefield.

When the news broke last spring of the Supreme Court’s Dobb’s decision, students all over Jefferson County walked out of class in protest of any curtailment in the “Right to Abortion”. The Spartan position on abortion is unknown, but they practiced a similar methodology of infanticide. At birth, a panel of tribal elders met to inspect babies. Only if deemed healthy and otherwise acceptable would the baby be allowed to live, otherwise the infant was abandoned to die of exposure. How this Spartan variation on abortion aligns with the sacred “Right to Choose” beloved of “diverse groups” is questionable.

At Ken Caryl Middle School, parents are encouraged to support their children, mothers and fathers are tasked with the responsibility to be an active participant in their education. In contrast, Spartan boys had virtually no contact with mother or father. At the age of 7, the young boy is taken from his home and placed in a communal and compulsory “educational camp”, a military school with harsh discipline requiring “spartan” living conditions. He will remain here until the age of 18. During this time, the boys are grouped in “packs” and supervised by older boys. This system was called the Agoge, the actual realization imagined by William Golding in his well regarded novel, Lord of the Flies.

To no one’s surprise, Jefferson County Schools “has strong policies supporting LGBTQ students” with a website for the LGBTQIA+ community. Ken Caryl Middle School has a school sanctioned club with two teacher sponsors, GSA – the Genders and Sexualities Alliance; per the school website “a safe space for LGBTQ students and allies to gather”. Perhaps it was with this need to support non-normative sexuality endorsed and supported by Ken Caryl Middle School that the “diverse group” selected the Spartans.  Sparta was  very supportive society of such safe spaces, at least for the gay and lesbian communities.

On the other hand, the practice of “grooming”, as long practiced in sub rosa LGBTQ communities, is universally condemned by the educational establishment, at least for now. But in Spartan society, “grooming” was taken for granted, even required. As Paul Cartledge, the leading modern historian of ancient Spartan culture, puts it;

“After the age of twelve, every Spartan teenager (boy in the Agoge) was expected to receive a young adult warrior as his lover”

The Spartan phalanx was a dense formation of armored spearmen maneuvering in a tight formation. The armored soldiers wielded spears 8 feet in length along with heavy shields. To be effective the phalanx required the soldiers to be close knit with a great deal of familiarity and trust in each other. This close bonding between paired soldiers served to promote this need. Although given the rampant promiscuity rumored to be the rule in gay communities, one wonders at the night life in Spartan army camps on campaign.

Students at Ken Caryl Middle School matriculate into Columbine High School, the scene of a horrible massacre some 24 years ago. Thus the school neighborhoods have been well acquainted with the horrors of young men with murderous intent killing unarmed victims.

It may be have been in hopes of memorializing this senseless slaughter that the “diverse group” selected the Spartans. As young Spartan boys aged into their late teens, they graduated from the Agoge into their adult profession as phalanx spearman. But the most promising of them were enrolled in the Crypteia, the Secret Society.

The boys were given a term of service in the Crypteia, most probably for one year. They were given daggers and nothing else. They were ordered to sleep during the day and roam the countryside by night. They must live off the land and if caught they would be severely whipped. Their assigned task was to terrorize the Helots, killing without mercy any they came across, including women and children. They were told to focus on the strongest and healthiest of the slave race. To live, the Crypteia must steal their food from the Helots even as they killed them. One Imagines that Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the shooters at Columbine High School, would have been honored members of the Crypteia.

In the modern Decalogue, the commandment to honor one’s father and mother has been replaced by the edict requiring equal opportunity and representation for those choosing she/her as pronouns. And in this spirit Ken Caryl Middle School is replete with posters celebrating students identifying as she/her in the STEM professions.

Most probably it was in this spirit the “diverse group” chose the Spartans, as Spartan women experienced a level of freedom and responsibility unique in ancient Greek culture. This may well have been a necessity given that the men were gone most of the time.

Alone among the Greek cities of the time, Spartan girls received an education equal to that given the boys. They were expected to exercise doing calisthenics as well as participating in sports such as javelin throwing, the discus, gymnastics and wrestling, often competing with the boys. As was the norm in Grecian athletics, the girls were completely naked in their competitions and practice. One expects that athletic contests were well attended.

Spartan women could own property, though they had no vote in the Spartan Assembly. They were spared the drudgeries of housework as Helot slave women did all work in the household. Thus the Spartan woman had an abundance of free time for the pursuit of leisure activities. The great Greek biographer of ancient times, Plutarch, published a work titled, “Sayings of Spartan Women”. Needless to say such a book would have been ludicrous for the women of any other Greek city burdened down with the cares of household and children. Many of the sayings Plutarch collected have survived. One of the most commonly remembered of which is this mother’s parting words:

“A Spartan woman, as she handed her son his shield, exhorted him saying, “As a warrior of Sparta come back with your shield or on it.”

As you can see, Spartan mothers were not noted for their warmth.

Along with their other attainments, Spartan women were thought to have a certain pagan joie de vivre. The rest of the Greeks had a nickname for Spartan women – thigh flasher. Their regime of exercise and freedom from household drudgery contributed to a high level of physical beauty as well as being celebrated throughout Greece for their dancing. Whether this dancing involved poles is not known. The infamous Helen of Troy, the face that launched a thousand ships, was a Spartan.

The degree to which Spartan women were culturally conditioned to be hetero-normative is unknown. However choruses of young girls often performed in public and one of their choral hymns that has survived, “The Maiden Song”, describes their eros, intense physical desire, for the young women that were their leaders.

Given the heightened awareness of the need for DEI in schools, as well as the pervasive innuendo involved in the school board recall campaign, it is most probable that serious minded Christians were not part of the “diverse group”. The Spartan conception of marriage was not a Christian one, and the possible objections raised by a narrow-minded Bible-believing Fundamentalist somewhat familiar with history could be counterproductive to the smooth functioning of the “diverse group’s” deliberations.

While the widespread tales of the Spartan custom of wife swapping within ancient culture are impossible to prove or disprove, they were widely credited by the other Greeks. But it was a fact that Spartan women had problems with infertility, a problem frequently encountered in warrior societies. The Comanche’s of the American plains suffered from a similar problem. Miscarriage was common among Spartan women even when conception occurred. And so within Spartan culture, childless men were encouraged to invite other men to sleep with their wife or get the loan of another man’s proven fertile wife to sleep with in order to perpetuate their family line.

Given the modern need to judge the suitability of our past against the tres chic morality of the past decade, the Spartans and Crusaders present a mixed bag. On the question of slavery, that pivot upon which rests all of today’s moral tests, the go/no-go gauge for worthiness, the Spartans clearly are an abomination – the very epitome of a culture built on slavery. The Crusaders in contrast battled against just such a slave owning culture, the Seljuk Turks, built upon and dependent upon slavery.

On the other profound moral question of the day, approval for LGBTQ1A+, the Crusaders clearly fail badly. The Spartans clearly are superior by that measure, getting an A+ at least for for the “L” and “G”.

In the calculus of morality by which school mascots are judged, the standing of women’s rights is currently undergoing revision, clearly falling to a now subsidiary ranking below LGBTQ1A+. But on the issue of women’s rights, I would declare it a draw in any case. The relative freedom of Spartan women is offset by a lack of voice in their circumstances.

The roles of 12th Century women in Northern Europe were circumscribed by their lack of a slave underclass to allow them free time such as Spartan women enjoyed. Certainly the teen age girls of Europe did not have the freedom from clothing enjoyed by Spartan girls. But in contrast, looking at the lives of European women such as Eleanor of Aquitaine demonstrates substantial political freedoms not allowed Spartan women.

On those discredited Christian measures of morality such as sanctity of marriage, the Crusaders emerge clearly superior. The standards of chivalrous conduct expected of Crusaders, also based on discredited Christian principles, are much more in line with the values proclaimed in the wall posters of Ken Caryl Middle School than that of the Spartans.

And so my granddaughter is now a “Spartan” rather than a “Crusader”. To be honest, I really don’t care. I think all this fuss about the sins of past peoples, the judgement of the past by the newly created moralities of avant garde activists, is simply a smokescreen for those seeking dominion. Given the makeup of the Ken Caryl neighborhoods, one suspects the values celebrated in neighboring homes to be much more aligned with those of the Crusaders than with the Spartans.

All in all, a small matter, a tempest in a tea pot. But then don’t forget that our children are always watching us. The purpose of Ken Caryl Middle School is to educate our children. But they learn much more from watching what we do than from their hours in the classroom.

They have seen their mascot, the image of the school that is supposed to be a source of their identity and pride, changed, almost in the dead of night. A mascot that had endured for 46 years. A mascot supposedly a totem of honorable conduct for their parents and grandparents.

They have seen small minded easily offended anonymous people make people in responsible positions run for cover. At some future day, they may actually read some books and learn who the Spartans really were – one of the most repulsive ancient cultures in Western Civilization.

When I watch the schooling of my grandchildren, I often remember the words of the Prophet Hosea and grieve:

“For they sow the wind and shall reap the whirlwind”

One watches the news, responding to click bait as intended. But as emotion fades and reason returns, perhaps only in the silent watches of the night, one struggles to make sense of it all. While a sense of outrage often returns, a harsh endorsement of righteous anger at foul play by those “Others”, that way leads only to madness.

I seek comfort in the words of Scripture, but alas, such wisdom and comfort are denied those to whom the “Spartans” are a more preferable role model than the “Crusaders”. Perhaps they might chance on the poems of Mathew Arnold. Unfortunately, they are unlikely to run across his work as Mr. Arnold was a despicable person, a cisgender Victorian, a member of the oppressive white Patriarchy. But in his defense, he was a poet of uncommon talent as well as an educator.

Mathew Arnold lived in 19th Century England and observed the elite schools teaching England’s best and brightest, a school system very like our own celebrating the “Rational” and striving to remove mythos of Christianity and all its teachings from the curriculum.

His most famous poem, Dover Beach, was a reflection on his own school system, but might well describe our own as well. Its final lines are an apt description Adorable ideals driving the battles surrounding Superintendent Dan McMinimee, the teachers union, the voters and circumstances surrounding the mascot of Ken Caryl Middle School.

“Ah, love, let us be true

To one another! For the world, which seems

To lie before us like a land of dreams,

So various, so beautiful, so new,

Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,

Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;

And we are here as on a darkling plain

Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,

Where ignorant armies clash by night.”

One might then contemplate the lives of those who were educated in those schools. They were the generals and officers who commanded the men of Flanders Field, of the Somme and Verdun. The perceptive commanding general of their enemy, the German General Erich Ludendorff, famous described the common uneducated private soldiers and their educated officers thus:

“They were lions led by donkeys”


One Response to “Ken Caryl Middle School – “Go Tell the Spartans””

  1. Russell G Kyncl says:

    Well researched and well said. Any culture that could field the three hundred, and their thousands of support slaves, at Thermopylae,is worthy of remembrance, along with their many faults as perceived in the modern rearview mirror. Plus few people seem to know that the Crusades were a defensive war, a desperate attempt to stop the expansion of the Muslim hordes, or that the center of Christendom in that century was Turkey and Northern Africa, Rome the northern center, and the Germanic and Slavic tribes as yet unmissionized and pagan. That center was wiped out by jihad in the 7th Century, long before the First Crusade. If memory serves, rival groups of Jewish and Christian Arabs tried to stamp out Islam in its beginning, which if true would give Muslims victims’ retribution rights. Human beings are tribal.

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