Lesson Learned: “That Dog Won’t Hunt”


In the mid 1980s, our family left West Virginia briefly to live in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where I taught in the Oral Roberts University School of Medicine. I had a hankering to be a teacher and got my chance to scratch that itch. West Virginia stayed on the back roads of my memory, except for one vivid occasion when then-Governor Arch Moore proclaimed, “That dog won’t hunt!” Headlines blasted the colloquial banner atop the “Tulsa World News” and the “Dallas Morning Times.” Suddenly, I was hearing West Virginia slang being spoken quite forcefully.

What Governor Moore said then, and an increasing number of West Virginia citizens are saying now, is “Whoa!” We have already delayed public school opening by a month to get it right for the sake of the children. Is September 8th the right time to open school?

In the central Appalachian Mountains, originally the saying, “That dog won’t hunt,” emerged from our hunting culture. The coon dog and the coon are equally involved in the outcome. It means something just isn’t going to happen. This idea or excuse won’t work.

I first heard the expression on an all-night raccoon hunt during my high school years camping at Camp Mahonegon Scout Reservation, the 417-acre camping paradise in Ellamore, WV. Typical of Boy Scouts of America leaders, some brought their coon dogs to the scout reservation along the banks of the Middle Fork River, where we spotted abundant raccoon tracks. We were sitting around a campfire listening to the distant barking dogs. Suddenly, the well-trained coon dogs stopped yelping, prompting the mountaineer’s observation.

The question of the day for Upshur County Schools is: Do our public schools open on the schedule proposed—September 8, 2020? The call must come from WV Governor Jim Justice, who daily huddles with his department heads, including Clayton Burch, WV State Superintendent of Schools. When we hear Governor Justice announce, “That dog won’t hunt!” some of us may interpret that the date of school opening is postponed again. But just as likely, we may understand that teaching and learning are now taking place for our 265,000 public school students on schedule in a virtual schools format or some other combination. Our proverbial coon dog or coon, coronavirus, is on the run our West Virginia Governor will be signaling.

Just as I heard the silence long ago around the campfire, the coon dog and the coon coronavirus will be acknowledging tomorrow is another day. Truce is declared, and our West Virginia Schools, grappling with strong determination, strike a balanced risk. The risk will never be zero. But the risk balance of personal risk with freedoms, and individual responsibilities with the common good, gives way for a return to work, school, play, and other activities.

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