This I believe:
Class was half full of undergraduates in a Western Heritage gen ed course, My six year old daughter sat in the back with a perfectly new box of Crayola crayons and her sketchbook, – The subject was WWI…….Horror erupted at Virigina Tech the same morning. I was their teacher
So I begin the lecture… what are the causes, let’s go back. Do you remember Gavrilo Princip? Do you know historians describe him as being a member of a terroristic group. Do you know why? Do you get it?
What did terror mean to my students? Were they paying attention? Could any connection be made to their idea of terror, their angst from the events this morning. We were together captured for eighty minutes. I was teaching about an old world that needed to connect with their world, their sense of being of having place of meaning; something. Isn’t this the point – Do they need to memorize catchy phrases, the 11th day, the 11th hour of the 11th month… What was I doing?
I paused and looked out at these endearing youthful faces, some tired, some smiling, some annoyed some expressionless, some afraid. And I continued, feeling a pull inside me a frustrating tension that wants so much to free these minds, to let them open and contribute, to voice.
Because I believe it is in their voices that WWI will have meaning and I believe that these students and others like them are the generation that will delicately and decisively shape our world.
They have internalized 9/11 – It acts as an oppression in a culture of fear. They know war, not total war instead a war for an ethereal cause tied to democracy and loving the tents of this great nation. They don’t understand the threat of a communist USSR, but they realize the vulnerability of a classroom open to intruders. Did they do drills after Columbine and if so were they similar to the drills their grandparents did when they were preparing for a nuclear holocaust hidden beneath small school desks?
And so we continue, the United States enters the war and slowly but surely the tables turn and the deadlocked game of mutilation is over. We discuss the creation of new states, the League of Nations, the Treaty of Versailles. Powerful history for sure. But for me it seemed somehow trite. I could jump to WWII and draw parallels or discuss economics but they couldn’t possibly know what it was like to live in a depression (either could I for that matter) their economic station in life has never experienced a revolting societal downturn like our great grandparents did. In fact in general terms they have lived well.
So my internal frustrations mount, and I emphatically declare that no longer will journals just be posted on our course management system on line. They will need to come to class to retrieve assignments. I suppose I had some false sense that if they were just there the lessons of history would speak for themselves. It was their responsibility to care. And so I give the journal assignment…. Choose a question from the primary source on page 1007 and then react OR write about Darfur. They looked at me like I had completely lost any rational sense. What does Darfur have to do with this? I suppose they’ll find it, after all the minute hand had hit the magic number and there was no more time.
Looking back on class, in the midst of the day’s events, WWI and my vascillating convictions about purpose, I remembered Abigail dropping her box of crayons and letting out a quiet but audible “woops” in the back of the classroom. I found this to be very annoying, a child care emergency had situated her there and I was most aware of this added element which slightly upset our decorum.
And then a bright insightful and comedic young man said, “I just want one of those crayons” Maybe I should have given them crayons for a while, for just a few moments so that they didn’t have to put in order, so that they didn’t need to see lines of connections, so that they could for an instance just create their own.
This I believe.
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