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The Undercover Elephant

There are three things I should say before I jump in.

1)    this post is more about “cultural” politics that “political” politics. As in, it’s about the way we are divided politically as an American culture.  (you’ll see what I mean)

2)    You probably won’t agree with very much of what I have to say. (which is totally fine)

3)    There’s a really big chance that you’ll find things here that will prompt you to write long and incredibly intense comments about all the reasons why I’m wrong. (which is totally fine, too… but if you’re looking for a debate, you wont find it. I’ll respond politely and evenly and as logically as possible, but I won’t fight you. Sorry to disappoint all you young politicians. I’m not a politician. I just think a lot… probably too much.)

4)    Don’t say I didn’t warn you. You can call me crazy, deluded, fundamentalist… (but you can’t say that I didn’t warn you.)

And so it begins.

a few days ago-

“Mi,” nodded my oh-so-understanding college counselor, “You see, I know the ropes,” he said, “Your transcript is going to freak colleges out.”

There was a pause, and I blinked, until then unaware of the apparent terror my academic records would cause. My counselor got businesslike, “See, after spending your junior year in Beijing, chances are, Mi, the colleges most interested in such an… individualized… high-school experience will be the smaller, more unique institutions.”

I blinked again. He continued talking, and ultimately, what was translated to me was “the only colleges who could possible be interested in little ‘ole you are small-hipster-populated-east-coast-liberal arts-colleges.” Which I was totally fine with. He then mentioned a college in Vermont. A quite vehemently and literally liberal… liberal arts college.

I brought this revelation home to my parents. Considering the fact that I’ve grown up in a republican house surrounded by Christian values, the idea of applying for a tiny liberal arts college known for being enthusiastically blue was a little daunting. For them. And, I’ll be honest, for me too.

I knew that if somehow I ended up spending the next four years of my life in a college like that, any political value my parents had instilled in me, every conservative economic statute I’d ever agreed with, every ounce of faith I’d personally decided to pursue in terms of my believe in a Judeo-Christian God… all of that would be challenged. [(see the stats here)]

But, that’s a professor’s job, isn’t it? Woodrow Wilson himself, in 1914, noted that “the use of a university is to make young gentlemen as unlike their fathers as possible.” Nothing has changed; James O. Freedman, in 2002, states that the “purpose of a college education is to question your father’s values.” [(to read the article in which I found the quotes, click here)]

I’ll agree; blind belief in anything is dangerous. Everyone should absolutely have his or her core values given a good shake, a run for their money. But my adherence to Wilson and Freedman’s ideas goes only so far… is questioning the “norm” a good idea? Absolutely! Is it the sole purpose of a college education? Last I checked, no.

But this is America, no? One could easily argue that the country gives us a right to install a majority of liberal teachers… that, because I’ve grown up conservative, I should be willing to “open my mind” to everything the liberal professors have to say. And typically, I would agree… however, considering the fact that college happens to be some of the most formative years of a life, considering the fact that the only people who have any power over me in college would be my professors, and considering the fact [(see the stats!)] that most of these professors will be fairly liberal… would it be totally crazy to say that, in some ways, the odds, this time, are a little unfair? Food for thought…

I’ve always known that my high school is intensely liberal. Despite being a Catholic school, which, if stereotypes had their way, would encourage more conservative values, not one republican teacher exists on the staff. I am the closet Republican of my friend group [most of them assume I’m a democrat; I’ve got the blue-disguise thing down to a science … laugh at Romney, throw up the odd peace sign now and then, use hipster lingo, wear American Apparel… and no one ever has to know I’m a Republi(censored)!!]

See… I’m white, I’m apparently a member of the 1%, I’m republican, I’m Christian, I’ve been duck hunting, I believe in the right to own a firearm, and you actually can trace my American ancestry to General Sherman. I don’t say these things proudly, I just say them because those things are facts.

I’m also the epitome of everything my liberal friends have come to hate… or at least consider as fundamentalist or ignorant or racist or homophobic or islamophobic or chauvinistic or… the list goes on.

I’m not saying that some Republicans and some Christians and some Capitalist ideals haven’t messed up big-time. I could probably do with a dousing of the opposite political climate, for educations sake, right?

However, how far does that dousing go before it becomes a waterfall? How long before that waterfall drowns what ideals I’ve come to hold dear? Robert Marunto once said of his university experiences, “At many of the colleges I’ve taught at or consulted for, a perusal of the speakers list and the required readings in the campus bookstore convinces me that a student could probably go through four years without ever encountering a right-of-center view portrayed in a positive light.”

Again, I don’t mind being challenged. I don’t mind stepping into others’ shoes. (…why do you think I spent 9 months in China?) I do mind, however, feeling out of place and having nothing to do about it. I’m not extremist right, so I’m not going to be visiting the Tea Party’s website to get my Republican fix. I’m not left, either, so it’s not as if I’m going to be sitting in a humanities class nodding blithely as my professor says something more eloquently along the lines of  “large corporations are evil,” or “fundamentalist Christians cause the biggest problems.”

Some large corporations are evil. Some fundamentalist Christians act less like Christians (love your neighbor, anyone? Judge not, anyone? Blessed are peacemakers, anyone? Bueller? Bueller??) and more like genuinely depraved human beings (remember “God Hates America”?) But the left side ain’t perfect either.

My point?

Everybody poops!!

…or perhaps, to say it more eloquently (in the words of my religion of choice):

“therefore you have no excuse, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things.” (Romans 2:1-3, Bible.)  Or, equally, “Let not the hatred of any people make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice,” (Sûrah al-Mâ’idah: 8, the Quran.)

So, whether it’s my future liberal professor, or me, the fairly stereotypical Christian republican, we both have things to say. We both live in a country where we are free to say it. And elements of what we say both will have merit… but elements of what we both say probably will be evidence that we both poop. ‘Tis the nature of democracy, or so I’m told.

All I want to do is to survive the next four years with my beliefs intact. I’m nearly 18. I’m still young, but I’m not totally naïve anymore; I’m old enough to put my stake in the ground politically. But, no matter how deeply ingrained my ideals are, the next four years seem a little shaky… partially because I want to understand the other side of the political spectrum, partially because I’ll be totally alone while attempting to do so, and partially because I genuinely understand and appreciate my parents’ views. In college, for lack of better options, and not to be melodramatic, I might end up just trying to “fit in” with my liberal friends again, the Undercover Elephant once more. But, I look forward to the day when I wont have to… even if that day, according to the stats, is just something to think about.

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Posted by on October 26, 2012 in Default

 

A Novel Concept

We’ve all heard it before, seen it in movies, read about it in books… that world where the “parlor families” of Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 meet and laugh and eat together, that world of Pixar’s WALL-E, with slug-like people in their floating chairs, playing virtual golf, wearing virtual clothes.

That world in Minority Report, where mall-advertisements know you and your preferences with a simple scan of your iris. Not to mention our old favorite, that world in The Matrix. And if you’re looking for an even MORE outlandish version, check out The Social Network and Zuckerberg’s crazy online world, that one where human beings supposedly can meet and interact with other human beings… virtually? What a novel concept!

…Oh, wait.

JK. LAWLZ. ROFL.   (note my clever integration of online lingo… oh, the irony…)

…WE ALREADY LIVE IN THAT WORLD.

Or rather, worlds.

The idea of a life lived totally and utterly fused with technology is nothing new to us. For many, it has become pure reality… and as hackneyed or heretical as it may sound, I truly believe that this brave new electric frontier may well one day (today?) morph into some ugly universal curse, rather than the shining progressive blessing we’ve venerated.

As for me, that day arrived a year ago, when I first was introduced to online education during my year in China. I took a mere 3 classes via the web, and ultimately, those classes consumed my life. Literally. To give you an idea, I spent more time on the computer during the day than I actually spent teaching English, which was one of my main reasons of going in the first place. I found myself unable to devote myself to my Chinese family and to their world because I constantly was drawn back to the nagging, hypnotic, blue glow of the world inside my screen. It was a tragedy… there I was, living in a country full of intrigue and adventure and challenge, breathing its air, eating its food, befriending its people… and I stared at an 8-by-11 inch space of pixellated unreality for a good third of the day. (That said… I should probably be thankful for the fact that I had a computer to use in the first place; without one, without the online classes, my year in Beijing never would have been possible, so… I guess that makes my argument slightly less plausible…)

Nonetheless, my deep and burning bitterness towards technology remains… (dramatic music cue) …and believe it or not, as thankful as I am to OSG, this same bitterness has rekindled during these last few weeks of classes.

The Haiku interface and all the supplements (Twitter, Voicethread, GoogleDocs, GoogleReader, Vimeo, WordPress… am I missing any?) is engrossing, engaging, useful… it “connects” me with people I never would have otherwise interacted with, it allows me to study and discuss on my own time… it has successfully managed to plug me into a myriad of various networks with which I can more easily connect with my fellow human beings.

This is exactly why I dislike it so intensely.

First of all, I’ll just say, as a kind of disclaimer, the class itself is brilliant. I love the questions we’re asked, I’ve been forced to think deeply about my country, I’ve become more aware of my responsibilities as a citizen. I’ve enjoyed getting to know my classmates and my teacher (even if, to put it bluntly, they will remain nothing more to me than a pixellated face for the entirety of our acquaintance). I genuinely and truly can say that I like AP Government (even if the workload occasionally is a little… ah, shall we say… strenuous? Challenging? I’m-dying-of-court-case-report-syndrome-please-call-an-ambulence?)

But learning online is tough. I like people. I like knowing their stories, seeing their faces, engaging. The classes I perform best in are the classes in which I am most engaged on a personal level.

Let’s face it… I know nothing more about all of you than your academic writing style, your inferred political opinions, and the few personal facts you imparted to me over a slightly fuzzy computer-camera film (loaded and posted to Vimeo). For all that I’ve been able to know via Haiku, Mr. G could actually be an ax-murderer (NO OFFENCE, MR. G!) with an astonishingly convenient amount of knowledge about U.S. and World government. I can’t hear him or my classmates laugh or shout… I can’t see them just be human.

And in a very sad (but true) sense, I can never truly be friends with my fellow OSG classmates… when you boil it down, friendship is action, not a few pixels that form a face or a word, even if it is a kind face or a kind word. I still don’t know you, and you don’t know me.

An online education is convenient. It’s fast. It’s full of facts and figures and thoughts. It’s impressive. It’s progressive. (or so they tell me…)

But when all is said and done, what do we want education to be about? The speed and ease with which we can post or repost thoughts and ideas? The amount of ways we can express ourselves virtually?

Or… do we want it to be about encouraging us to take action in the world… the real, physical, people-are-getting-shot-at-and-what-are-you-going-to-do-about-it world?

Maybe we can talk about that choice sometime, as a class, in a real room somewhere… a room where “chat” is more than the pixels and sound waves of a “chat room.” Discuss and comment face to face… where faces aren’t compiled into some kind of “face book,” or crunched into some kind of “face time.”

Real people talking to, learning with, real people.

What a novel concept.

 
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Posted by on October 5, 2012 in Learning