As I now join in with the sentiment bandwagon on this the 11th of September 2013, I am lost in rather non-flag waving thoughts. Before I get to those, I will recount where I was on this date in 2001.
I was teaching 8th grade English at Denn John Middle School in Kissimmee, Florida. It was my first teaching assignment in Florida and, to be honest, it was a tough school in which to teach when it comes to the baggage the student body had—low socioeconomic level, absentee and abusive parents, etc. The majority of the students were on free or reduced lunch. Some even had children of their own. Rough place to teach. However, I loved my students. Sure, there were the routine class clowns and gang wannabes, but overall, these kids knew that if they wanted out of their current situation they needed to work for it. I digress.
I cannot recall if it was during my planning or when I was finishing lunch as I usually kept in my classroom avoiding the lunchroom gossip and peer gripe sessions. What I do recall well was that when word came out about the events unfolding in NY, PA, and DC/VA, we were advised NOT to speak about the events with our students and to act as if nothing unusual occurred. Stay the course, to put it another way. However, there were a couple of problems with keeping the status quo and obeying that order from administration.
The first problem was that the kids already either heard a little about it or saw teachers weeping and heard them talking in hushed tones about what was happening. Students are not idiots, they can sense when something is not right. Unfortunately, my administrators either feared mass panic or who knows what else if we talked about it.
The second problem was that many of the students at this school had relatives either in New York City in particular and/or were from there themselves. While the majority of the students were Hispanic, from primarily the Caribbean, they either passed through New York on their way back south to Florida or had relatives who had stayed in New York. As such, it did not surprise me when students entered my classroom clamoring with questions and fraught with emotions. Some were eerily silent. There was no way they could focus on class. They knew what happened from either having overheard it or through text messages they received from family.
The maelstrom of panic was already thick in the air; therefore, I did what any self-respecting real educator would do.
We talked about it.
As we talked, announcements came either by the intercom system or through runners to the classrooms stating parents were arriving to pick up their students. As classes changed, we kept talking through it as necessary. Some students asked to come back to my room so they could feel safe and discuss what they were feeling rather than try to focus on classroom work and pretend all was the same it had been when they arrived at school that morning.
Many students expressed fears that our area would be attacked since it was a heavy tourist area and thus a prime target. I assured them as best I could that we were safe and would remain so and that our government would protect us. I heard stories about their lives and their families. Even those not from the areas attacked felt worried as they had loved ones in the Armed Forces and were concerned that they would have to go to war somewhere or that war was being waged in our own country. Again, as we talked through it, I noticed students starting to calm down more and more rather than panic.
The administration gave me a stern verbal reprimand when school was over for the day. The amusing part was that in the days that followed, many students and parents thanked me for listening to them or their students and not discounting their feelings or trying to make them focus on academics when clearly they could not.
That day changed America. It changed the lives of my students. It changed be a bit as well. I defied my administration for the sake of my students. While they considered me less than professional for doing so, I was probably more professional at that point and beyond than I was before when it came to teaching.
I made the choice to allow the students to see me as a human being rather than a cold professional who could not be flexible or caring enough to listen to them, to their fears. Was my behavior somewhat insubordinate? Yes, it was. I defied a direct order from my principal. Do I regret doing it? Hell, no!
Too many teachers do not allow themselves to be themselves around their students. They see the job and the professionalism of that job, but lose track of the humanity that is an overreaching important component of being a teacher. When a teacher lacks empathy and chooses only to focus on the academics, then they lose having a relationship with their students that makes those students want to succeed, even want to please the teacher because they know the teacher is fully invested in them as people first and students next. Teachers need to be humans first, then teachers. It is not being unprofessional unless the teacher abuses the trust that builds with having a good rapport with his or her students.
Now, for the part where I may seem less that patriotic about this day. Xenophobes, please feel free to stop reading at this point.
Okay. Now, for those of you still with me, I will proceed.
This is not a national holiday.
There is no Patriot Day authorized by Congress.
It is a day of Remembrance. Cowards bent on destroying us as a nation attacked our country.
Notice, I did not call their religion or nationality into this discussion. These people were terrorists. Plain and simple. They just so happened to be from the Middle East and just so happened to be followers of Islam. Too many people mention their religion or cultural background first and make it seem like people from their religion or cultural background are all terrorists bent on the destruction of the United States or the West in general. There are even a few wingnuts out there who threaten to burn the Koran or who terrorize people from the Middle East (or who look like they are from the Middle East), especially on this day.
This is completely unacceptable. More than that, it fails to recognize that we have also been the perpetrators of what should be seen as terrorist acts in the past in order to get what we wanted for our country.
What? The United States engaged in terrorism?!? No! Never!
Tell that to the Native Americans who lived here before our forbears arrived on the North American continent. Our government, in order to expand our territories and gain wealth that was on Native American lands, engaged in acts of terrorism against the Native Americans. There are incidents of giving smallpox infected blankets to Native Americans, the infamous Trail of Tears, and the forced assimilation of Native Americans including the taking of Native American children from their parents and placing them in boarding schools to teach away their culture. How about the involuntary sterilizations of Native American women that took place between the 1930s and 1970s? How about the continued suffering of Native Americans on reservations that have deplorable living conditions? These atrocities continue to this day, albeit on a smaller scale than deliberate murder of innocent people.
How can we as a country dare to flex our supposed grand morals at a country such as Syria with regard to its government’s use of chemical weapons to exterminate innocent people while ignoring our own past? How can we, as a supposed Christian nation, have people here who say that only other religions and/or cultures are brutal toward others and ours is not? The answer is simple. Ignorance coupled with an unwavering belief that we are somehow better than everyone else. We are not. We are humans too. Just like I mentioned earlier, we need to look on the world as human beings first, then as Americans or else we are doomed to do the same atrocities yet claim they are justified because it is for our good.
Along with this is that too many fail to realize that, like so many other things that happen to our country or the world, we helped to cause the animosity that brought about the tragedy. When the Russians attempted to defeat the Afghan mujahedeen, we supplied the mujahedeen with weapons and training to defeat them. We gave monetary aid to the Afghan people in exchange for their helping us to keep Communism from spreading. When the Russians left, so did we, to an extent. Even one of the major players in the aid to Afghanistan, Charlie Wilson, warned that we needed to help rebuild the country. Instead, we continued to fund the mujahedeen until they defeated the government that the Soviets left in place. The problem was that the mujahedeen were often worse than the Soviet-backed government that was in place. The mujahedeen that were allied with the more extreme Pashtun from Pakistan soon formed what became known as the Taliban who promised to bring order to Afghanistan. The United States, as the mujahedeen and warlords within Afghanistan continued to battle with one another, decided to stop aid. The Taliban then imposed strict Islamic law and the rest led to Bin Laden to take exile there and set up al-Qaeda.
Through our interference with regional matters and wanting to stop the spread of Communism, we helped to bring about the very enemy that attacked us.
Now, as we stand on the cusp of a possible conflict with Syria, we must ask ourselves if it is worth it. Yes, the international community must find a way to respond to the Syrian government’s slaughter of innocent people. However, before we proceed, we need to look at our internal and external history to prevent even further and possibly more destructive acts of terrorism against us or anyone in the world for that matter.
Finally, on this day that we stop to remember the heinous act that occurred on our soil, we need to step out of our comfort zone and take a look at all the acts of terrorism that occur on a daily basis in the world. Daily, there are innocent people across the world suffering from acts of terrorism-both domestic and foreign-we need to remember them as well. From the child who fears being discovered going to school for she is not allowed to do so under her country’s law, to the children who are forced in marriage across the world or into the world of human trafficking. We need to remember Columbine. We need to remember those killed in Oklahoma City by a domestic terrorist. We need to remember those killed at Fort Hood. We need to remember the people in the theater in Colorado. We need to remember the children at Sandy Hook Elementary. These are terrorist acts as well.
Terrorism, as defined by Merriam-Webster as “the systematic use of terror especially as a means of coercion”. It further elaborates through the Concise Encyclopedia by stating it is:
Systematic use of violence to create a general climate of fear in a population and thereby to bring about a particular political objective. It has been used throughout history by political organizations of both the left and the right, by nationalist and ethnic groups, and by revolutionaries. Although usually thought of as a means of destabilizing or overthrowing existing political institutions, terror also has been employed by governments against their own people to suppress dissent; examples include the reigns of certain Roman emperors, the French Revolution, Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union under Stalin, and Argentina during the “dirty war” of the 1970s.
Rather than just focus on the act of terrorism that occurred to us on this date in 2001; we need to see the other acts of terrorism that occur each day—domestic and foreign—and work to end acts of terrorism and bring about a more peaceful world.