Monday, May 29, 2017

On knowledge

I woke up this morning thinking about Martin Luther King's 1961 speech, "Love, Law, and Civil Disobedience." Lofty a.m. thoughts are in complete contrast to my usual egocentric waking self, especially on non-work days.

But this morning I was languishing in end of semester freedom--grades posted, no emails from students complaining about grades, the whole thing--over and done. And with that, I thought of all I'd learned this semester, and here's where MLK comes in. His speech was required freshman reading. As we unpacked the dense 8-page excerpt (single spaced!), we talked about protests and sit-ins and what it means to civilly disobey the status quo.

The reading was a perfect entree into discussing the political situation that is upon us. I pounded away at current and past actions people have taken when they had no rights or their rights were threatened--the Women's March, Black Lives Matter, rallies for immigrants and on and on. But when I asked students to contribute to the list, so few had ideas.  Have you signed any petitions on social media? I asked. Yes, a few nodded. Been to any rallies? One or two. Are you happy with the status quo? No no no no no. There was one outspoken activist -- an environmentalist, animal rights worker, one socially aware and vocal student. You're in college, I said to the rest. This is your world. And that's when I remembered myself as a college student, a very long distance from activism and protest. I wasn't happy with the status quo because my generation wasn't, not because of my own convictions, the few I had.       

When someone I've just met asks what I do, I say I teach. Lately I add, I don't know if anyone learns anything. I had a passionate teaching semester. I was riled up about world injustices, big and small.  We talked about Schindler, Malala Yousafazi--courageous people who challenged laws. We read about a river in New Zealand that a tribe fought to preserve--and they won. The river was given legal person status. (True!) I retained all of this, think about it, am energized. Did my students learn anything though? How do I know? Maybe knowledge will crop up here and there when they least expect it--as it often does for me.

As much as being a student (in school, in life) is an opportunity to learn, teaching is a hundred times more so. My brain pops with the histories we uncovered; I'm dizzy with the thrill of waking up from a deep sleep and thinking of Martin Luther King. Maybe that's the real payoff, the real reason I do this. Although semesters don't always end like this one, on an up note.

Summer is almost here. When my friend K. leaves for Budapest on Monday, I will not be on the plane. Eastern Europe, or any part of Europe, isn't happening for me, at least as far as I know today. Another friend left for Prague yesterday. I said, send my love to the Charles Bridge. This summer, I'll go with the tide or the flow or whatever it is that pulls me in the right direction.

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