It’s so amazing when the mundane is revelatory.
I got to be a social justice warrior. Teacher said:
“And Bernie Sanders is incredibly popular among people your age.”
A loaded pause. Her eyes dart to me and then away as she realizes. I smirk:
“I should report you for that ageism.”
We moved on, into typically unpleasant territory. But it’s only unpleasant because I notice things. More on that later. Now, though, it really is largely pleasant. The class isn’t terribly active, not many people have much to say , and many of the teacher’s prompts get met with the dreaded silence. But there are still real discussions and exchanges of ideas, and the general intellectual exercise is invigorating. For the first time in my life, I am genuinely bummed every time class is over.
Also, I’m old and prepared enough to be able to take the passively hostile environment in stride. The fact is, they don’t know they’re being hostile. Having one side to every story is all they’ve ever known, and the presumption of ideological ubiquity is very pacifying. Knowing this, I am patient and generous. Being generous in disagreement is a character virtue that is needed long before you earn the right to be confident in agreement. If I teach anyone anything, I hope it is that.
I sit in my chair in there, usually pretty wound up because I’m still in the honeymoon phase of college and I just love to be there, and I keep having reasons to say little things that are fun and enlightening. Maybe I’ll start cataloguing these things, the things I can’t believe I have to say out loud. What was Monday? Oh yeah: “I care what happens to white males.” Uncontroversial, and generally unconsidered. There should be a word for that sort of thing. All by itself, it isn’t a very interesting sentence. But imagine what that sounds like, in today’s quivering social climate, to the generation of kids who have completely shuffled the concept of whiteness into the File of Immediate Offense. Imagine how racist it must sound to have a white male say “I care what happens to white males.”
“WHY IS HE MICRO-AGGRESSING ME?”
“Are you sure it’s a micro-aggression? He said ‘white male.’ That’s like a, I don’t know, really big aggression.”
But anyway, I said it. And it was very quiet after, save for a refreshingly sincere-sounding chuckle from a big – I think Italian – fellow named Carlo. I don’t think angels have wasted their time blowing their trumpets towards a college campus in a long time, but they could have used that moment for a warm-up. It’s so amazing when the mundane is revelatory. I’ll just call them that, if there’s any more: Mundane Revelations.
There has been one more. Wednesday we found out, when the teacher asked, that I am the only person in the room who has served in the military. This surprised me, because an anonymous student had included in her thesis a very succinct definition of what the military teaches its members to think about the enemy. So specific that you’d expect it to require firsthand knowledge. “In the room” kind of stuff. Granted, based on what she wrote, it was the wrong room to be in. But we’ll get to that.
Keep in mind, as I’ve said, I’m very generous. I’m not just sitting in there waiting for my chance to poke people in the eye. I’m not antagonistic by nature. Then again, I wouldn’t have to be. In academia, the antagonism is prevenient to anything I could bring to the table. I just walk into the classroom and sit down amidst it three times a week. In this case, it was written on the board and staring at me for a good ten minutes, and being read aloud. I measured it as being worth leaving alone, until the teacher said to me “And what does the military teach you about the enemy?”
It’s too bad that this was an aside, and not the whole topic. I wanted two hours in a room with these kids. I wanted to do more, more, more. I gave them what I could in one sentence:
“I know Hollywood pretty much only tells the truth, but the military actually does not teach us (as I pointed at the thesis and read it word for word from the board) ‘that the enemy is subhuman and does not deserve our empathy.'”
I mean, I know you hate Ted Cruz and all, but managing to crowbar that tidbit into the analysis is really something. I got a little wet from the bubbles bursting and had to wipe myself off. It turns out that those bubbles are made mostly of drool and tears.
As noted, that was Wednesday. On Friday we quite literally spent the entire hour using the word “extremist” interchangeably with “Republican.” For realz. While talking about John friggin Kasich, people. And it was casual as hell. Nobody was laughing, it wasn’t an accusation. It wasn’t even thought about. It was as if they were just saying Coke and Pepsi to mean the same thing. Just to avoid repetition or something. “You can’t just say Republican in every other sentence. Replace it with extremist from time to time. Same-same.” Alas, this class is about writing papers, and I’m there to re-learn how to do that, so I didn’t take the time to interject. I’ll have my chance to have these discussions in the years to come, though I do feel a bit of a responsibility to help broaden the perspectives of these youngsters.
It’s a fun dualism, to learn and to teach. I wonder if being a parent is anything like that.