Tag Archives: current events

Magnanimity

BalanceI try hard in my class to keep my political and religious opinions hidden. When students asked me, “Who’d you vote for,” I simply replied, “That’s not a topic I feel is appropriate for the classroom.” Some students asked why; most seemed satisfied.

In today’s political climate, though, I’m not so much worried about students determining my political beliefs as much as I am concerned at the prospect of them thinking they have sorted out my political views — and then discussing that with their parents

We were working on Greek and Latin roots and affixes today in class, and we came to the word “magnanimous.” We went over the meaning, and as an example of magnanimity, the name “Obama” floated into the room.

To say I equivocated (another of today’s vocab words) would be an understatement. I was, for at least three to four seconds, speechless. Running through my head were concerns with how to avoid even an appearance of bias and a bit of paranoia about what might happen if I couldn’t succeed in the attempt.

“Sure,” I said haltingly. “Especially when he speaks. Most presidents seem magnanimous when they’re addressing large groups.”

Why couldn’t it have simply been “Sure?” Even if there weren’t all the political frothing at the mouth about Obama’s recent address to students, I would have been uncomfortable leaving it politically unbalanced. But I wouldn’t have briefly panicked about it.

Later in the day, in going over a new selection, we were discussing when it was morally permissible to defy a law, and the general conclusion hovered around the idea of unjust laws. We made a list of people in history and literature who’d done this: Rosa Parks, Gandhi, Thoreau. Someone mentioned Robin Hood, and I replied, “True — robbing the rich to give to the poor.”

From the back row comes a distinct, unsolicited comment: “Just like Obama.”

I let it slide, chosing not even to acknowledge it, which I think was the right decision. Still, that panic returned. “If I let it stand, will I look like I agree and that my class has a political bias? If I mention it’s inappropriateness, even if I say that the real problem was not the content but the method of delivery, will I look like an Obama defender?”

And then I thought, “I’m worried about appearing to defend the President of the United States?”

It’s not that I’m concerned about some McCarthy-ian consequences. I couldn’t lose my job about something so trivial. But in this time of heightened sensitivity toward anything connected to Obama, particularly here in South Carolina, where many folks view Representative Wilson as a hero, I find myself thinking, “You can never be too careful.”

Constantly thinking about the political implications of student and teacher remarks makes for particularly effect pedagogy.

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Intellectual Walls

Mis (Teddy Bear)

Mis (Teddy Bear)

Many people were concerned about Obama’s speech, and some conservatives were voicing fears that Obama would try to indoctrinate the youth. Concerned conservative groups urged parents to keep their children at home, to shield them from the insidious message of socialism. “Parents have a right to decide what their children hear!” they protested, “And we’re only trying to protect our children.”

The irony is, in trying to shield their children from a perceived socialist threat, they were engaging in behavior that historically has been most commonly exhibited by — surprise! — socialist regimes.

One of the most frightening features of the Soviet Union and its satellite states was the complete control they had over information. Orwell’s 1984 had the Records Department of the Ministry of Truth, which altered historical documents to create the appearance of Big Brother’s omniscience. The Soviet Union, in many ways, did the same thing.

More importantly, though, anything and everything from the corrupt West was censored. The capitalist message was so insidious that it might indoctrinate the happy citizens of the Soviet Union and lead to the downfall of the the most perfect civilization on Earth. Capitalism was bad, so bad that even to think about it was deadly.

The Polish cult classic Mis (“Teddy Bear”) has a scene dramatizing what surely happened each and every time a sports team from a communist country traveled West for a competition. The director of the sports club gives the standard speech before getting on the bus:

You’re going to a capitalist country, which might have it’s own, well, advantages. Take care that those advantages don’t overshadow the disadvantages.

The advantages could be so seductive that they could cast their spell even in the midst of post-war destruction: Stalin imprisoned many of the Soviet soldiers who’d been on the far Western front. They’d seen too much; they’d been contaminated. Indoctrinated.

The Soviets didn’t want informed citizens who could weigh the advantages and disadvantages of socialism and capitalism and choose wisely. Big Brother knew very well how seductive the dark side could be, and he took great pains to shield his younger siblings’ eyes and plug their ears.

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