Thursday, October 15, 2015

Teaching and Arcing Towards Justice

Today is my second day with my onground class.  Last week I wrote this post about how I have changed since the last time I taught onground classes.

When I was teaching last week, I explained my approach to this class which is essentially Composition II.  I am letting each student choose his or her own topic which they will spend the quarter exploring. 

I told them that when I first started teaching, I chose the topics, and they were usually whichever social justice topic interested me.  I told my class last week that I thought that by teaching, I could change the world.

And then I blurted, "And it worked."  I hadn't known I was going to say that.  My students looked surprised.

I elaborated.  When I started teaching, with my own class in 1988, the Berlin Wall was still up.  The Soviet Union still existed.  I told them about the photo I have of a college friend in his "Free Nelson Mandela" t-shirt.  We never thought it would happen.

Do I really think these things happened because I taught a few classes at the University of South Carolina?  No, I don't.  But I do think that we teach people to think and we expose them to the wider world, and it's hard to know exactly what forces we may harness.

I think of friends at the University of Virginia who set up shantytowns on the Lawn to encourage the university to divest.  They did, as did institutions across the U.S.  Those divestments helped destabilize the South African government.  Archbishop Desmond Tutu has credited student movements of the 1980's for providing the energy that made divestment possible.

I think of my best friend from high school who was stationed in Germany when the wall came down.  Do I think her presence facilitated that development.  Yes, in a way--but she was part of a decades long process of containment, which kept the world from rushing to another world war.

It's a simplistic view, and I am not stupid.  I realize that there are many elements which led to these developments, and I can't give a tidy explanation in a blog post.  Books have been written and are being written.

But I love this Martin Luther King quote:  "The arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice."  It gives a sense of the scope of the task, but it also reminds us that we all have a part to play.  We don't know how much torque our actions may provide, but that's not the important issue.  We need to do what we can to help bend that arc of history.

I teach.  I write.  I support my friends who are doing a variety of activities.  I share my wealth with those organizations that can do so much as a collective.

And I remind students that they, too, can be part of this arc.

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