First, I want to thank President Thrasher for his recent memo encouraging tolerance and mutual respect in the wake of the election.
I don’t know what the response of your students has been. It certainly varies with politics and discipline. But as someone who teaches small classes and one-on-one lessons, it’s been a difficult couple of weeks. Many students are having legitimate issues concentrating. Many feel adrift, looking for perhaps what they didn’t even acknowledge that they needed – the bedrock of patriotism, belief in country, and faith in democracy. It’s not enough to tell them to suck it up and accept the result. This was not a normal election, but a process that changed the nature of our political discourse and freed some of the darkest demons in the American soul. Student responses are real and should be respected.
What do we as educators, do to settle our own minds and continue to mentor and encourage our students to move ahead with confidence? Our own politics will determine whether we support or oppose the new administration, and no one is bound to do either. But we are challenged to acknowledge, even if we don’t accept all points of view and then do what we can to change them.
I have a student who is writing a one-act opera for an undergrad Honors in the Major project. It’s based on Kafka’s “DER PROZESS” – THE TRIAL – dealing with the themes of totalitarianism, mind control, and decay. He finds that all of a sudden – his words – the work has become frighteningly relevant. How do the rest of us answer? Here is a paraphrased version of the closing of Leonard Bernstein’s famous speech after the death of JFK 53 years ago today. That was the day when, as a fourth grader, I first learned about violence.
“The nature of our situation is immensely aggravated by the element of violence involved in it, without restricting those elements to a single ideology. And where does this violence spring from? From ignorance and hatred — the exact antonyms of Learning and Reason. Learning and Reason: two simple words. Every person can pick them up where they have fallen and make them part of themselves – the seeds of rational intelligence without which our world can no longer survive. This must be the mission of every person of goodwill: to insist, unflaggingly, at risk of becoming a repetitive bore, but to insist on the achievement of a world in which the mind will have triumphed over violence and intolerance.
Anger, disappointment, and fear should not inflame us to seek retribution; rather they will inflame our efforts to do what we do. Organize. Advocate. Our work may never again be quite the same. This will be our reply: to make art – to teach – to study – to write – to research – more intensely and with more focus than ever before. And with each effort we will honor the true spirit of humanity and reaffirm all of our beliefs in the Triumph of the Mind.”