This I Believe

Ketlen - Malden, Massachusetts
Entered on October 1, 2006
Age Group: 30 - 50
Themes: Holocaust
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Open Letter to My Colleagues:

As I ventured to compose this essay, I thought of the words I would use to begin. A couple came to mind: Pablum. Equanimity. Both from the Principal. And a few from me: Log. Splinter. Moral Lapse.

The year has centered a lot on getting the school to not only embody rigour and collegiality but also active consciousness and responsive rhetoric. It is within this context that I was most saddened and disillusioned by the response to my students’ Benchmark assignment displayed on the second floor. When the Anne Frank project initially went up, I indeed felt the change of energy. I knew that both it and I were being talked about. This much is true, silence has a sound and is a force! I knew there were concerns. Being frank, there was disapproval. Be it a comment such as: I wouldn’t have done it that way; this was a bit much; or a non-verbal one like the uncomfortable glances at the display. I waited for my colleagues to approach me and openly share their concerns. An administrator did, but only to express the concern of another. We work in a middle school. We are adults however. Peter need not tell Paul what Mary said. When a faculty member did email me with her concerns, I responded and invited her to talk to my students further. I take this moment to thank her for being straightforward and wanting to dialogue.

When week two arrived since the display, I had done much self-reflection and prepared myself for whatever would come. There was a disclaimer posted about the project, but I was informed that it was not large enough. Rarely is the disclaimer bigger than the art itself. Then, my students led a school-wide presentation as Friday Forum to explain the project and answer questions. No feedback. As historical predictability never fails, I was asked to take down the display immediately. And I complied. And I was livid. And I wanted to quit. I did even more self-reflection. I realized that whatever I did wouldn’t be enough. More importantly still, I knew that I do not jump. Rope. Hurdles. Through hoops. What message would quitting have sent to my students? What became of my students’ thoughtful reflection? What is the role of a school whose mission is rhetoric based? The artwork went back up — in my classroom. It stayed there for the same length of time as previous displays. In my class at least, students can and do engage in honest, academic, indeed humanist, dialogue so they can make their community and the world bigger, better, and more beautiful than it was transmitted to them.

Pablum defined: Trite, insipid, or simplistic writing, speech, or conceptualization

• That I was approached to produce a rubric for this display and not the other two that my students previously did is an assertion that the other assignments were pablum whereas the latest is more esteemed and therefore a censored rationale was imperative. It further undermined not only my professionalism but also my intelligence. I am equally capable of directing a project on the Humanities and the Ghettoization of Black America, as I am WWII.

Equanimity defined: Evenness of temper under stress

• I preface: all human life is sacred; all atrocities deserve outrage; genocidal bloodlust affects us all, not solely the outcast group. I say this because part of the argument was that the events of WWII are still fresh and horrible, that so many died, that it is somehow more sacred. If it is more sacred than other instances of man’s inhumanity to their fellows, it has lost all sanctity. If quantity is the measure of quality, then ethical, philosophical, and religious tenets about the universal One have been the greatest con on earth. If time is the issue, fresher still are the innumerable in Dafur, Iraq and Boston being snuffed out, as we speak, by genocide, extremist religiosity, and poverty proper. Note: Behold the Wasteland of Youth: Generation Y, also once on the second floor, highlighted instances of excess (drugs & sex), body dysmorphia, nihilism, genocide, and entropy. The Darfur fundraiser posters presently displayed around the school likewise contain disturbing images. When did black Humanity become merely black bodies? Where is the outrage about that?

Log defined: A usually large section of a trunk or limb of a fallen or felled tree. Also, The book in which a record is kept. The plot of our existence

• He who sees the splinter in another’s eyes and not the log in his own is …. And alas, what is now chronicled upon the psyches of our students? So dark the plot. So dark.

Splinter defined: A small thin sharp piece of wood, broken from a larger piece. A fragment

• Ever did our students understand the philosophy of I and Thou, of selective compassion and consciousness for a few.

The Moral lapse. Ah, Humanity!