Joyce Hinnefeld


Tuesday, March 1, 2011

This morning my husband heard from a colleague of his who’s teaching in Oman. Things are relatively stable there, she reported, though there have been some relatively rare protests. What she also said was that unlike here in the U.S., where she always feels better informed about world events than the students she teaches, in Oman she has repeatedly felt less informed than her students.

Hearing this reminded me of a story I heard on NPR last week, about the illustrious Library of Alexandria, in Egypt, where protestors formed a human chain surrounding the library to protect it. "What happened was pure magic," the director of the library is quoted as saying. "People from within the demonstrations broke out of the demonstrations and simply linked hands, and they said 'This is our library. Don't touch it.'"

I’m worried about our priorities here in the U.S., about Tea Party-fueled fervor to balance the budget by making drastic cuts in heath care and social services, education, public broadcasting, and inevitably, in public services like libraries. I’m also worried about how poorly informed our populace seems to be; I fear we’re too distracted by entertainment and gadgets and the kind of whining and bickering that passes for news on the Fox network to recognize the very real dangers (like efforts to gut the collective bargaining rights of public employees) that are facing us, right here at home, now.

I love NPR. I love the fact that in the twenty minutes or so that I spend in the car on a given morning, I can learn about the Library of Alexandria, described by NPR’s Selena Simmons-Duffin as “a bastion of intellectual openness, holding conferences on human rights and standing firm against censorship” (and, interestingly, very much supported by Hosni Mubarak). And then, after that, I can listen to Susan Stamberg's story about Hollywood “prop masters” and the resources they draw on in gathering props for movies, like a place called “History for Hire,” whose alphabetical list of archived objects starts something like “ambulance gurnies, amputation kits, anchors . . . ” (I came home that day and wrote those three down).

Some days, like today, the stories aren’t so fun. Today I came home and wrote down a line from a brief news story about violence in Afghanistan. Military authorities there are waiting and watching, the reporter said, to see how many insurgents start to appear in this, “the traditional fighting season in the spring.”

Imagine the arrival of spring as the beginning of “the traditional fighting season.” Just yesterday, I thought this morning, there I was, in my own classroom, reading William Carlos Williams’s “Spring and All” to my students and urging them to get outside and look for sprouts of green grass in the middle of all the ugly, muddy slush, for “the stiff curl of wildcarrot leaf,” to look up the verb “to quicken.” I’ve been urging them to listen for bird song (it’s starting up, and it’s heavenly) for weeks now.

But that’s okay. Tomorrow I’ll tell them about spring as “the traditional fighting season” in Afghanistan. Get informed about it all, I’ll say--wildcarrot leaf, quickening, Afghanistan, the bird you’re hearing and wish you could identify, the remarkable Library of Alexandria, the teachers and nurses in the statehouse in Wisconsin, all of it. Try to think of whether there’s something you’d link arms and stand in a circle in front of in order to defend it from rocks and guns, or from financial gutting. Then write about it.

I've noticed that some bloggers that I read end their posts with a question--to invite comments, I suppose (read: Is anybody out there?) This might be a good time to pose a question, I suppose. What would you link arms to defend? Or, what are you most worried about losing, here and now?

*The Robert Mankoff cartoon at the beginning of this post appears in the February 28, 2011 New Yorker.

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