Friday, February 10, 2017

Court Cases and Language Matters

Last night I stayed late at the office to talk to a student before her 6 p.m. class--and then I went to follow up with the Director of Admissions who had brought her to me.  Thus, I was in the car as the moon played peek-a-boo with the clouds, and I heard the news that the federal appeals court had rejected Trump's demands to reinstate the travel ban.

I was listening to NPR, so I got to hear a great conversation about the Constitution and the way it's supposed to work.  I have always been impressed when our system of checks and balances works, even when I don't always agree.  There were moments in the post-September 11 years when I worried about the future of the first amendment, and if we had had more terrorist attacks, I think we'd be living in a more repressive country than we are now.

There was also a great conversation about human rights, and not just the right of U.S. Citizens.  I felt a bit teary, but then I always do when I think about these issues.  I have an almost religious reverence for these documents that have done so much to shape our thinking about human rights.

When I used to teach on-ground classes, I would have students read some of the important documents of our nation and write about them.  When I taught the first half of the Brit Lit survey class, we discussed the thinkers that led the early U.S. patriots to write those documents, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.  In short, when I was teaching, I looked for ways to work these citizenship lessons into my classes.  Many of my students had never been exposed to them at all.  I worried about them; it's easy for people to strip you of your rights if you don't even know you have them.

Back in those days before September 11, 2001, I wouldn't have dreamed of the Patriot Act, and how people would willingly give up those rights in hopes of being a bit safer.  And then, how many of us willingly give up every scrap of privacy for the convenience of living so much of our lives online--and I'm the same, although it's partly because I feel that my life is so boring that I am willing to give up that privacy.

Yes, I realize how much I might regret that openness if a truly repressive regime that threatened more of us living in the U.S. came into power.  But last night, I felt that stirring of hope that I so often feel when talk turns to the Constitution.  Last night, I was moved by the power of those words to shape actions by some of the most powerful people in the U.S., perhaps in the world--and I reflected on how sturdy those early documents have proven.

And then I came home and spent some time with some different powerful words:  Margaret Atwood's.  Last night while I waited for the student, I wrote this Facebook post:  "Tonight I will have popcorn for dinner and read Margaret Atwood. No not "The Handmaid's Tale" or the other dystopias. Not "Cat's Eye," with its message of how female friends can turn on each other. No, I'm in the mood for "The Robber Bride," which has been on my list of books to revisit since reading Atwood's short story collection "The Stone Mattress," which has one story that revisits the characters."

I will write more about The Robber Bride later, but as I read I marveled at the power of Atwood's skill with words.  It was a great night, although much too short, remembering that words are important and that language matters.

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