Thursday, September 2, 2010


I've been at East Central University now for about a month. I like it, overall, and get to have all sorts of conversations with people from all over. My new colleagues on campus are drawn from Oklahoma and surrounding states and a few neighboring nations. This is the major advantage of academe: I get to meet the world in a four block radius.

We invariably turn to politics. Many people think the way I do, which is what I might term a liberal leaning, non-religious moderate. Some are far more liberal than I in their thinking and others range towards conservative. But there are few absolutists, few extremists. In fact, one of the major goals in my classroom- in all of our classrooms- is to educate people out of narrow perspectives enough so that they can hear and respect other viewpoints. Even if we don't agree, we can get along. That's the take home message. Yes, I'm an English teacher. But English is just the venue for modeling critical thought and tolerance. And there is a lot of intolerance out there. Where does it come from?

I can almost hear my students' parents' voices echoing in hatespeech. I see it in the unconscious racism and white entitlement. And I cringe whenever I have occasion to hear white elitism parroted through the bible. Jesus didn't speak English, folks. And he hung out with the "lower" classes. And he sure as fuck wasn't white. But I digress. Prejudice is learned in society and in the home. And it's spread from racism and religious intolerance to political party hatred. I think that should be a new category of "isms": racism, sexism, religious intolerance and party-ism. This schism has been growing in the last few years, but has widened with the election of a president of color. One in five Americans think he is Muslim, and that being so is bad. Our president has wonderful oratory skills and excellent relations in the international arena. His foreign policy has been carried through and every single domestic policy he has attempted has been thwarted or otherwise criticized unilaterally and propagandized and in many cases (*cough*sarahpalin*cough*) even denigrated by opponents, both political and social. I can tell you that no matter what he tries to do, it will be shot down if possible. Period. It's a power struggle, out and out. It's a political/media war.

What we have is a problem of trust. We no longer allow others to disagree with our viewpoints. If someone disagrees, then they must be a democrat/republican/socialist/communist/whatthefuckever. They must not know what they're talking about because if they paid attention they would see how badly my side is portrayed in the media and how awful their own representatives are screwing over the American public. That person must then become the enemy. They must be discounted not just on an academic level, but on a personal one. They may sympathize with those who bombed the twin towers. They must be silenced because their views are becoming dangerous. We must mistrust them and perhaps fear them and perhaps pre-emptively strike them and retreat to our own homes and block out our neighbors and listen only to our churches and our pastors. But the priests are molesting children, the Mormons won't allow black people, the Christians may want to cast out the Hispanics and the Muslims are all terrorists. "They" (whoever that is) have nothing in common with the rest of "us Americans" (whoever that is).

My friend Bohn, who is ex-military and who now works as a prison guard (nearly 2.3 million people are behind bars which is greater than 1% of the U.S. population- an all-time high), talks a lot about the men and women he works with and their attitude towards inmates. He sees the common atrocities every day. Is not the measure of the "goodness" of a society dependent on how that society treats the worst and the least among them?
"Mindie," he says, "When the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail."

The fact is that we can only pull apart and hate each other for so long. We must find new tools. We teachers must supply new tools for listening, for understanding and empathizing and for sewing our nation together again. "One nation, under God," does not specify the Christian or the Catholic or any particular mono- or polytheistic deity. It's also not "One nation, under single party control." However, "Religion is the single most important factor that drives American belief attitudes and behaviors," saysMichael Lindsay Assistant Director of the Center on Race, Religion and Urban Life at Rice University. "It is a powerful indicator of where America will end up on politics, culture, family life." And those factors all produce a student, sitting in a classroom, waiting to talk to me, to listen to me, to interact with those around them and hopefully, to share and find more tools.



  1. Well put. Thanks for the insight and the voice. We keep trying.

  2. You're one of my favorite teachers, Ken!

  3. Well said. Wait, Ken stole my line! Well, great minds you know.