----- Original Message -----
From: Jane Milton
To: [log in to unmask]
Sent: Sunday, September 16, 2001 3:12 PM
Subject: CASLL/recent events
Last Tuesday afternoon, I met my new class for the first time -having just run home to see how my kids were taking the news and images of the horror in New York. One of my new students identified herself as an Iraqi, here in Halifax, Canada, because it was safer than her homeland. She also said a few things about the ongoing horror in Iraq.
On Wednesday morning, feeling speechless myself, I had to address a lecture class of about 100 students on the importance of language and writing in particular.
Those of you who know me from the Inkshed conferences know that I am English, although Canada has adopted me. I can barely tell the difference between my American and Canadian colleagues. I just know who has children or other family members working in New York.
Does it matter what heritage or nationality I have in terms of my job as a teacher of writing? No. Does it matter what my political stripe is? No, in as far as that political stripe does not interfere with my ability to see the full humanity of each and every student.
What has made me feel that the Inkshed community, American and Canadian et al, is really worth belonging to is that issues of ethics and humanity have never been hidden or subsumed by a "professionalizing" focus on other aspects of the practice of teaching writing - the kind of things that can be quantified and measured like test scores. In every single conference I have attended, someone or some several, have brought up issues that are fundamental to recognizing the humanity of others. Issues of gender, sexual orientation, race, class, disablities, hierarchies, etc. etc. have been discussed in terms of how they affect the way we interact with students, how we help or fail to help our students in the complex dance of learning to write within a discipline, within a culture, ... and find an individual voice.
Yes, free speech is a fundamental right we must protect. But it's not worth protecting unless we also engage in debate. Without debate and dialogue all we have is a series of disconnected utterances, and no hope of consensus. And if the world ever needed consensus, it is now. Now is not the time to withdraw from the dialogue. It sounds as though we need your voice in that dialogue, Rachel.
As Margaret Atwood said in her essay "What is a Writer's Responsibility?," oppression is the result of the failure of the imagination. Failure to imagine the full humaity of other human beings. Our ability to imagine the full humanity of those who would inflict such hurt as that in the US last week is sorely tested. I'm not sure I can do it. But I can imagine the horror of ordinary Afghanis under military attack, and I can imagine the grief of a parent whose son or daughter comes home in a body bag.
I can also imagine more terrorist attacks. So what do I do? How do I live with this imagination? I simply don't have the faith that any individual leader knows best. I can only hope that through dialogue and exchange, a kind of collective wisdom will percolate.
Thanks for sticking through this lengthy posting, but after a week of speechlessness.... And thanks all, for prompting me to find the words.
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