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Back to School--Nurturing a Violent Society
town hall meeting

Each year at the Advising Workshop for faculty, the Dean of Admission presents facts about our incoming class: their ethnography, academic records, community service and place of origin. We have watched the diversity of the College grow every year; more students speak more than one language, more perform community service. Then the Dean pointed out, this class, the traditionally aged students, were born in 1991. In their lifetime, the US government has always been in Iraq. They were born and have lived through a lifetime of the army of occupation (likewise for the Iraqi Freshman class, but that is another story, sadder).

I and perhaps other faculty members mulled over this as she left the podium and the Director of Institutional Research, etc, presented more information. This class, according to her survey, in comparison to the entering class of 2000, consider themselves less creative, less artistic and less spiritual. She found a 20% drop in what was called “self-understanding.” Very few considered themselves politically “left” and of course more ingested hours of television and video games.

I had been repeating some of this information to my friends over the last few days, seeing if their reactions were similar to mine—born into the desert storm, living through several war-oriented administrations, economic disaster, growing violence at home, outlandish and aggressive recruitment in their schools, corporations shrinking business opportunities, a development of a farther, fatter religious right—without the balance of strong left wing in the government, what does that do to a child, what is their country in their eyes?

This information exploded for me yesterday with two incidences, wildly different and yet related. Senator Edward Kennedy died. This is the senator who said in 1980: 

Let us pledge that we will never misuse unemployment, high interest rates, and human misery as false weapons against inflation. 
Let us pledge that employment will be the first priority of our economic policy. 
Let us pledge that there will be security for all those who are now at work, and let us pledge that there will be jobs for all who are out of work; and we will not compromise on the issues of jobs. 
These are not simplistic pledges. Simply put, they are the heart of our tradition, and they have been the soul of our Party across the generations. It is the glory and the greatness of our tradition to speak for those who have no voice, to remember those who are forgotten, to respond to the frustrations and fulfill the aspirations of all Americans seeking a better life in a better land. 
We dare not forsake that tradition.

The other incident that occurred yesterday was the courage of a San Mateo teacher, Kennet Santana, tackling and subduing (along with others) a boy, also born in 1991, who had 10 pipe bombs, a sword and a chain saw. The boy had already exploded two of the bombs which, gratefully, did no damage. Did he has less self-understanding? Did he feel less spiritual? Or more…

In my fear of these facts and these juxtapositions, I also acknowledge my arrogance. When I was young, three Kennedys were in office, left-wing politicians populated both chambers of the legislature, I heard Martin Luther King weekly on the television, music about social justice and peace was on the Billboard charts. We saw the dead in My Lai and we had developed a consciousness about war, right or left—the debate was live, supported by real investigative journalism and not just pundit commentary, part of my classroom curriculum, and when we marched against the war, our congress came with us, our professors joined us, our clergy was on the front lines and not screwing the country down from the pulpit or the cable networks. We had violence and racism and conspiracy, but the two sides were not about a public option—they were about war and peace, poverty and wealth, equality and segregation. 

I have known periods of peace and prosperity. I had resources for my education; I went to school on affirmative action. Institutions believed in me, immigrant daughter, and supported me. Some of my students who can make it all the way through, leave with $80,000 in loans. 

I understand that if Ted Kennedy had lived longer it wouldn’t mean that we would necessarily get the health care we need, or that we would stop invading countries on mythologies, or that we would stop allowing corporations to steal, cheat, extort and dominate the market and then get bailed out by the folks they cheated. What Ted Kennedy’s passing means is we have no reference for the “left” in the ruling class. The liberals in congress now are often more conservative than the policies of Richard Nixon (really, look it up). I was reading Kennedy’s speeches http://www.tedkennedy.org/ownwords--and while I would take a harder line in some places, he has the language of human rights. I miss that.

For the first year class of college students around the country, Kennedy is a footnote. They were born into a country whose strategies are destructive, not only to the countries which the US occupies and invades, but so much to our own. We have destroyed the economy, the benefits of a capitalistic structure, destroying small businesses and negating competition, we have destroyed two generations of military personnel with poor training methods and the worst post-service support in the last century, we have a tunnel vision where the poor are not served or supported or even bailed out of a hurricane; we have become knee-jerk in our responses to certain immigrants and now there is a larger plan to formalize the expulsion of “the huddled masses yearning to be free.”

Many have become disciples of companies that propagandize the health care bills and have become religious in their opposition—and religious sometimes includes being “armed.” And weirdly enough, we do not recognize racism anymore. (It never used to be okay to bring a gun to a public meeting, not even a toy one…has it ?)

Do we need to ask ourselves what inspired this angry boy to bring pipe bombs into a school? Live his life—read what he reads, watch what he watches, follow the timeline of his life from Desert Storm to Health Care Reform attempts. Sure, many children have come through this and have not armed themselves, and we are lucky for that. But note, as the government (and corporations )gets bigger and badder, so do the models for the desperate—this boy invaded the school, occupied it and wanted to bring it to his knees.

I know my generation is always dissing the younger ones, complaining about their music, their lack of humanity, their addictions to technology. This is not that kind of whine. This is a sincere concern that when you raise a generation while we are participating in an occupation, invasion and war, are you doing enough to nurture the heart, the soul and their creativity? Do you provide alternatives to arming, aggressing, you tubing fights in bathrooms and sexual acts in basements? Do you give them tools to develop philosophies and self-understanding? Understanding of others? Most of the parents I know have done a great job, but sometimes the world is heavier than they are and counterbalance their work.

Classes start today. Professors and teachers are going in with poetry and paintings, policy analysis and scientific research, we are going in with our history and commitment. I am taking a deep breath-my first day is Langston Hughes’ poetry, and Brother, we have work to do.

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You hit all the points that

You hit all the points that make me cringe and cry and a bunch of other things that don't start with cr. One addition, this is also a generation who went to school at a time when the arts seemed the easiest thing to cut for budget reasons. No art, just football. Nothing against football (ok, maybe a little) but the balance is missing.

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did you know

that in most high schools now, kids have to pay to be on athletic teams? pretty soon biology will have a price tag

And in the end, the love you take, is equal to the love, you make (paul mc cartney)
Elmaz
elmaz@elmazabinader.com