This has probably happened to you: Somehow, you find yourself on an e-mail list receiving unwanted forwards--anything from dancing babies to earnest exhortations about boycotting Exxon stations. You don't want this junk cluttering up your mailbox, but you have a connection to the person sending the messages. So you simply hit delete unless the annoying sender delivers something you're interested in, or...
something repugnant. Which is what the man in charge of the group list for my high school class has been doing with some regularity. In addition to announcements about the 40th class reunion, and photos of the old gang having breakfast together, he was sharing "must reads" about the evils of gun control, immigration law and Our Muslim President.
I tried asking him--off-list--to send me only stuff about the Class of 1969. Which inspired him to send more even more links, which usually ended with personally crafted warnings for the Lib-tards on the list ("you know who you are"). He crossed a line last week, however, in sharing some truly ugly suggestions for how to get Muslims to commit suicide. (Gotta read this! It's hilarious!)
I took a deep breath and reminded myself that I used to coach students to stand up to bullies. I thought about all the townspeople who walked past the "labor camp" in Dachau on their way to market, and the angry mob who yelled obscenities at the Little Rock Nine. Then I posted a brief, polite message to the whole group saying that I found his message of bigotry unacceptable--and while it would be easier to say nothing, such silence might lead him to believe that others felt as he did.
His counter was a disgusting message that labeled injured AZ Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords a [expletive] idiot, followed by more anti-Islam rubbish. My posting motivated a half-dozen high school classmates to send me nasty personal messages telling me I was full of excrement or blind to the realities of life in 2011. Also--treasonous. So much for Martin Niemoller.
I've had a couple of days to think it over, however. And while I obviously can never attend another class reunion (laughing), I'm not sorry at all for what I did. What good am I, as a teacher and a human being, unless I can stand up for justice?
In Fareed Zakaria's powerful piece in Time--Are America's Best Days Behind Us?--he writes about the depressing tone of the national conversation on critical issues, the "shallow triumphalism purveyed by politicians now."
We have let our fears and pessimism control the discourse, rather than inspiring us to be our better, more creative selves. We live in a nation where the best and most trustworthy news coverage is satire, and skillful advertising paid for by clandestine funders persuades vulnerable people to speak and vote against their own economic interests and their communities.
And that's where education comes in. Real education, not achievement-data education: Whose viewpoint is this, and what are their goals? How have these issues been handled--successfully or with terrible results-- throughout history? What is the evidence, and can we trust it? What are the alternatives--what other choices do we have?