In light of the Professor Salaita decision and the trampling of academic freedom at Illinois

October 15, 2014

A proposed new form letter to potential faculty making its way around the university:


Dear Dr. _______

Congratulations! You may already be a professor at the University of Illinois!

I am pleased to say that we are provisionally offering you a possible job as an Associate Professor in the XXX department, contingent upon your background check and thought-process clearance. Please note that this offer is not enforceable in any way. It is, however, our sincere invitation to you to resign your current position, have your spouse quit their job, pull your children out of school and move to central Illinois on the off-chance that when you arrive, we might still hire you. Although the position is tenured, we ask that you to work for one month before we decide.

We are proud to say that you might be joining one of the finest research faculties in the world.   Of course, since Academic Freedom is central to our mission at Illinois, we would not want your freedom to speak out on controversial issues to be constrained in any way. Therefore, we offer our “Illinois Freedom Guarantee”: you are free to say whatever you like, and in return, we are free to fire you at the local newspaper’s request.

There are just a few more steps to take before we can provisionally confirm your employment: we will need to do a forensic analysis of your Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Myspace and AOL accounts as well as your ATM access and the inscriptions on your high school yearbook. Please send us your most recent passwords and the name of your BFF from 12th grade.

We will need to install surveillance cameras in front of your house and current office. When you get here, you’ll be delighted to find that video surveillance is a standard feature in most office suites at U of I.

Please note that all faculty and prospective faculty are now subject to random autonomy testing. Governor Quinn will be in direct touch about our excellent selection of retirement plans.

To start your background check and clearance, please fill out and return the enclosed forms, with a check or money order for $50 dollars (non-refundable) and a recent DNA sample. You’ll be hearing from us very soon.

With sincerely conditional best wishes,


U of I

End Racism!

October 10, 2014

Please sign and share:

Michelle Fine and Joel Westheimer at the Maxine Greene Memorial

October 9, 2014

Michelle Fine’s notes from her talk at the Maxine Greene Memorial:

For Maxine – I can hear her say:

“I am a believer in the unanswerable questions; the really hard ones.”
(Maxine Greene)

In the Fall after the harrowing Summer of 2014, Maxine’s words haunt as we drown in unanswerable questions.

We sit in puddles of cumulative tears dropped after witnessing videos of police murdering Eric Garner and Michael Browne;

babies, children, mothers and fathers standing at the US – Mexico border asking for sanctuary;

Russia invading Ukraine and Ebola invading African countries starved of infrastructure,

as 2000 Gazans and 71 Israelis were killed in a devastating assault followed by the now predictable occupation of more land by Israel.

This was the summer we learned about ISIS and beheadings, when unknown numbers of drones are dropping bombs in Pakistan, Iraq and elsewhere.

Not even Robin Williams could make us smile.

This is a time when thinking persons experience a crisis of confidence in hope; a desire to flee; a profound destabilization of our sense of ourselves, our country, what it means to be human(e). In the deepest bowels of my soul, in my belly, I miss and need Maxine, so much.

I want to offer some moments of when Maxine shed light for me, with me, on me, beside me… an academic mother, lover, mentor, a woman who spun images, who spoke out loud what I feared to say, who created spaces where I could nestle with my darkest dis-ease/anxiety/shame. Even toward the end, more fragile and more daring, she offered light as she sipped cranberry juice through a straw, with oxygen tubes floating into nostrils, exhaling wisdom, humor, and the intimate desire to know. So we chatted about war, the imagination for evil, about Obama, public education, gossip about colleagues and then her newest discovery, Dancing with the Stars – “Have you ever seen it?” She was cared for impeccably by Alta and Anna even as so many who adored her would arrive like refugees from cold, dark institutions, sneaking up the elevator to apartment 3C – because the neighbors banned her salons – and then being captivated by a living room of light and windows and welcome, that is, by Maxine. “Thank you for coming” with a chuckle, she would announce as I entered, leaving me unsure if I was being invited in or invited to leave. Her ambivalence danced with desire to be with, be known, be loved, have red lips, be sure and be uncertain.

There was the moment, mid-1990s, when we were teaching at Bedford Hills Women’s Prison. Maria Torre and I invited Maxine to come teach a class. She agreed and schlepped north up the Saw Mill, through the existential quicksand of prison scanning, metal detectors, barbed wire, heavy noise of metal slamming doors, cold stares, lives held in abeyance, children without mommas, surrounded by eyes of want, betrayal, desire, regret and appetite. She entered cautiously, in black, a room of smart, hungry, courageous complex women in green, and began to speak of Tillie Olson’s I stand here ironing; to speak of the loss of Linda her daughter, anxious of course about the too easy slippage between losing a child to cancer and losing a child to incarceration. And the women loved her. They understood her. They so appreciated her integrity, sadness, her humanity. They loved her low voice, her relentless willingness to ask impossible questions, her red lips, dark hair, very white skin, and her ability to travel from art to literature and from familiar to esoteric references and still remain grounded, huddled in a blanket of affect, in the room. Within the cold plastered walls, Maxine was our intellectual and emotional Sherpa who accompanied and protected us as we traveled together through deep, collective circuits of loss and regret as if that were simply human.

And when Maxine wasn’t a light in dark times she was a noise in quiet times.  Have you ever sat next to Maxine in a space where quiet was the obvious, only choice and whispering the preferred mode of communication? She and I were in Gloria Steinhem’s living room, maybe a decade ago; a stunning space of women in rapture with politics, ideas, Gloria’s apartment and of course Gloria.  We sat in a huge circle with Gloria as the center. Maxine and I shared a mini-sofa at the Southeast corner of the circle, her cane on the floor, pocketbook stuffed between our thighs. Gloria was speaking when Maxine leaned over to me: “Do you remember she slept with Henry Kissinger?” Her query was louder than expected – I knew and she didn’t. Actually almost everyone knew but Maxine.

Bad enough.

But she continued,

“I never did that.”

And continued,

“Did you?”

I hurriedly gathered our bags, her cane, mobilized the strength to get us both upright, giggling with shame, pride and embarrassment – rushing to find a cab.

And then, most recently, there was the hospital, where she was clearly in pain and discomfort but remained a strong and caring light for all who visited and attended to her. She never complained and only begged Anna for ice chips.  “I am scared, don’t let me die.” “I can’t breathe, I may throw up.” “I see you both and I am calm.” “This is my son and his wife, we had a beautiful wedding.” Even as she entered a morphine-induced stupor, she would offer a slightly hallucinatory lecture on Dewey, Sartre or Merleau Ponty,  Guernica, a piece of music or a performance at Lincoln Center.

“I do remember your mother, Michelle. She was strong, she spoke her views.”

“What was the occasion when you were wearing a white suit, and how are your boys?”

At one point she turned to me, “We should go to Ohio” to be with Janet Miller who was speaking at Patti Lather’s retirement. “We should be there. I am famous, but so are you.”  Trouble was…. We (or at least I ) weren’t invited; she was on intravenous drugs, Tim was talking to doctors about hospice and yet, “I want to do something meaningful.”

“You have and you will again,” Carole and I spoke like sisters in synchrony.

“Well, I hope so.”

Carole and Maxine then discussed the next edition of Dialectic of Freedom that they would begin as soon as Maxine left Lenox Hill Hospital.

With ironic, delicious, well-deserved confidence, from her hospital bed and in that white and blue spectacled hospital garb, she knew she was smart and bold. Never once did she ask the question that haunted her for at least the 40 years I knew her: “Was I OK?” asked after every public lecture.

As Connie, her daughter in law and I, filled the room, and probably the hallways with song – preferably show tunes that Connie knew and I could fake – Maxine would muster strength and her remarkable memory to complete the chorus.  One morning, from her exhausted body, under a crumple of sheets re-ordered with love and dedication by Anna, with thirsty lips, parched throat, oxygen, glasses and eyes of fear, she boomed out, “SOLIDARITY FOREVER!” and asked us if it were may 1, assuring us that “The union makes us strong!”

And she was so right, about all the unions she joined, created and nurtured.

A stunning feature of a light in dark times is the last chapter, the refraction of the light offered for almost a century. At the end, so many showed up to be her light, to sit in her shadow, to swallow her last words so they might live inside us.  Tim, Connie, Anna, Carol, Janet, Jean, Susan and so many others, gathered to be with her. Maxine was surrounded by loving arms, sweet desires and all of us yearning for one more day, one more hallucinatory lecture with a smile of recognition, “it’s so nice of you to come” dismissing and appreciating us. “I love you darling.”

Maxine knew indeed, that we were not finished yet. In her last moments she asked for Linda.

Maxine, in the shadow of your passing, we are onto the really hard questions.  Problems are wicked. We need you more than ever, even as we dance on your sweet shoulders.  Sleep well my friend; your words keep us awake as we build fragile shelters of not-so-solidarities to prepare for the winter.

Indeed, like Maxine, we are all not finished yet.

I will miss her enormously. But I think she would tell us, “Don’t mourn, host a salon. Or a movement, or watch the incredible grace of a tree, poem, a child, a classroom that hums with questions. Put on lipstick. Make time for friends.  Grow a sauna of teachers and learners.  Be a light in dark times.”

Goodbye sweet Maxine, until we meet again

And Joel Westheimer’s comments at the Memorial:

“The endless conversation.”  That’s what I wrote in 1987 in the margin of an edited book called Teacher Renewal.  I wrote it while I was a student and Maxine was speaking about her chapter in that book.

She called for “an endless conversation, a dialogue without restraint, and discourse without resolution.”

Have any of us every met anyone who lived their life more by those ideas?  She might have said “the endless salon at my house” or “the living room carpet that always fits a few more.”

Every single time I saw Maxine, she picked up the conversation exactly where we had last left it, as if I were one of only 6 people who had been in her apartment in the intervening months.  But she had talked to hundreds, exchanged letters and notes and phone calls with hundreds more.

“Did you finish that article you were working on about…” and she would fill in whatever article it was.

“Do you still think Obama is…?” and she would repeat back to me whatever it was I had last said about Obama the last time we had met.

“How is your sister, Miriam?” she would ask.  Or “When Carol was here, we talked about Bill’s new book – have you read it?”

There are only a few who know how to live life so fully.  Salons.  Students.  Concerts.  Lectures.  Reading up.  Dressing down.  Imagining the possible for our children…and their children.

As so-and-so in this novel by so-and-so, she would say, as if all of us were as intimately familiar with the characters of every book written in the past 200 years as she was…

One moment it was Amir speaking to his friend Rahim in The Kiterunner.
The next Ren and Toby from The Year of the Flood
Or Dorothea and Mr. Casaubon from Middlemarch
Or so-and-so from Shakespeare,
And this and that from Roth’s American Pastoral.

Who could read all these books?, I thought  How did she remember so many characters?  She’s 4 decades older than I am – and I feel lucky to be able to remember the titles of the books I’ve read.

But it didn’t matter. The quotation from the fictional character captured the point perfectly.  Maxine always brought us to those places in our imagination that so often pass unnoticed.  The ones that, when given the attention they deserve, nourish our curiosity and the sense of the possible.

She inspired teachers and scholars alike, in fact blurring that very distinction.

Of course a conversation without end does not imply a purposeless conversation or a weak one.  Creativity and imagination were not just idle words when spoken by Maxine.

I was thinking about how we often talk about how standardization of the curriculum is the enemy of creativity and imagination.

But we forget and Maxine reminds us again and again that the reverse is also true:

That creativity and imagination are the enemies of standardization, powerful counter-forces to the dull and the dreary.   Worthy adversaries against uniformity and conformity.

Maxine nudged us to recognize education as a beautifully human enterprise, built not on disconnected and disembodied facts but on the language of freedom, beauty, art, poetry.

Mary Oliver, in her poem, The Summer Day, says this:

I DO know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?

Maxine, a mentor and friend to so many of us, lived a wild and precious life.

45 Years!!! From old friend and fellow freedom fighter Bob Tomashevsky

October 8, 2014
Days Of Rage, Bringin’ The War Home!
This Wednesday Oct. 8th , is the 45th anniversary (Wow! Where did those years go?) of the Bring The War Home/Days Of Rage demonstration/riot in Chicago! There are many points of view about what went down but none would deny that it was a demo like none other. It inspired many folks around the world and here in the mother country of amerikan imperialism. Hundreds of brave young folks took the streets ready to make a statement that could not be ignored in support of the Vietnamese and other 3rd   world anti-imperialist struggles. Frustrated by U.S. genocidal tactics and the continued lies of both the Dem. and Rep. Parties, people prepared to risk their white skins and bodies to fight on a new level for what had been the all too “comfortable” non-accomplishing protest movement. We in sds and weather had uneasily evolved to the understanding of the necessity attacking the symbols of “business as usual” mentality.  It was a proud moment in amerikan rebellious history! So give a toast and lift a glass of libation to all those women and men who swallowed so many fears of life and limb to support the anti-imperialist struggle!
    Given that the world today is in dire need of immediate changes just to survive, it is with deepest hope that folks will be newly inspired to find ways to challenge both amerikan imperialism and corporate greed.  To save pacha mama it will be necessary to act in ways that cause enough disruption so that there might still be some hope for this planet’s inhabitants!
                         Salud! Venceremos! Occupy Everywhere! Keep on keepin’ on!
cc Marion Delgado

Notes from the Memorial for Maxine, October 6, 2014

October 7, 2014


Teachers College, Columbia University

Cowin Auditorium

October 6, 2014, 4 PM


How wonderful to be conjuring once more our dazzling and matchless Maxine, our dear, sweet friend, our teacher—the finest any of us could hope for—who always found new and surprising ways to nourish each of us and simultaneously to challenge us with a simple word or a single gesture. She was our inspiration; she is our treasure still.

Maxine would have loved this—all of us gathered together at Teachers College in a kind of intentional if transient community, and she would have loved—particularly—that she had, as she might have put it, “just a little to do” with our being here.

But she would have been slightly embarrassed as well, and a bit ambivalent—“unwarranted praise” she might call it, and she would certainly resist any attempt to suspend her in amber—even now—or to pin her to a board like a butterfly. She wanted no pedestal. I’ve been in situations with her more than once—when she was younger, yes, but accelerating with age—where the admiration became too thick for her, and the accolades too sticky, and she would turn to me and whisper urgently, “Get me out of here!” She was allergic to sainthood.

“I am what I am not yet” she reminded us again and again. She saw herself—and each of us—as an unruly spark of meaning-making energy embarked on a voyage of discovery and surprise, thrust into a going world without guarantees, destined to have her blooming in the noise of the whirlwind. I’m more than my statistical profile, she said, and I won’t be summed up, once and for all. True even now.

There was a disarming modesty in her. “I’m a person stumbling around with questions,” she said of herself, “questions that continually arise…questions leading to partial answers and then opening to more questions.”

Coming from the stage where she’d just presented on a panel with Paulo Freire many years ago—a talk in which she’d brought down the house and left everyone breathless—she asked, “Did I do alright? Do you think they liked it?” We thought she must be kidding, and while this was characteristically self-mocking, she wasn’t kidding.

Because it was more than modesty—she carried her outsider experience and history with her as well: being a woman in a tightly policed world of men; growing up in the early last century a Jew, and then a red. She knew walls and barriers; she knew something, as well, of storming the barricades.

She began her introductory class by telling students that we would be “doing philosophy together”—an odd and attention-grabbing provocation. She explained that philosophy was once considered “the queen of the sciences,” but had become, at best, a queen with a tarnished crown, badly askew. That was OK, she said, because it wasn’t royalty we wanted, but awareness. We would not now bow before the canon; but, working with all the available light we could summon—ideas and texts and the arts, the events of the world as well as our own daily encounters—we would struggle to become more aware of ourselves in the world, our inter-subjective predicaments and our partial and incomplete understandings.

Her teaching had an improvisational feel to it—fresh and vital and intimate even as it was rooted firmly in a coherent ground of core beliefs—in part because she harvested it from her own lived experience.

One bitter, snowy evening we’d been talking about homelessness and how the unacceptable was being transformed into the expected right before our eyes, and also about detachment and imposed or willful blindness: the opposite of moral, she argued, was not immoral, but indifferent. She’d gone home that night and noticed a man she’d seen many times before wrapped in a blanket on a bench across from her apartment. She felt compelled to speak to him, to engage him, and she crossed over and invited him upstairs for a bowl of soup. He recoiled from her angrily and snapped: “What do you want from me lady? I’m not going with you.” “I was so relieved,” she told us, and that cracked us up, but it was so emblematic: insisting on being real, flawed and imperfect, a work-in-progress.

That was Maxine in full: bringing her values to life day by day, but always illuminating her own ambivalences and conflicts. Her dialectical mind dazzled us because it worked so unabashedly in contradiction and it worked out loud and in public. She said in class once, speaking then of the power of punk rock, that she thought it was critical, of course, that we construct our taste and values for ourselves, our own aesthetic awareness, that we choose, for example, the musical encounters that move and enlighten us—but that she hoped secretly we would all choose Bach.

Those who cherry-pick from the vast expanse of her project—embracing the aesthetic and discarding the political, for example, or reducing her critique to a useful formula in this or that reform battle, or, again, grasping the radical politics but rejecting the powerful ways that an engagement with the arts opened for her angles never before seen and urged voyages not yet taken—will miss the heart of the matter.

The great theme of her life was the dialectic of freedom. There could be no freedom where the forces pressing down upon us—forces of oppression and exploitation, racism and discrimination, pestilence and plague—were seen as natural or given; it’s when we look at the world as if it could be otherwise, when we reach for possibility— engaging both imagination and critique—that we might open a space for the pursuit of freedom.

Awareness and wide-awakeness; paying attention—this was where it started for her, and it was accompanied by a sense of wonder—taking nothing for granted, continually astonished at the beauty, yes, and the ecstasy we might find around us every day, and also the suffering and the unnecessary pain human beings visit upon one another. Always a sense of incompleteness, and then, of course, the obligation to act—imperfectly to be sure—on whatever the known demands. And on and on forever: Open your eyes! Be astonished! Act! Doubt! Repeat for a lifetime.

She urged us to defend the weak, to defy oppressive or even imperfect authority, to criticize orthodoxy and dogma, stereotype and received wisdom of every kind. She invited us to say goodbye to schooling as an arid, dry, self-referencing and self-satisfied affair, to teaching as a mechanical trivial pursuit of the obvious, to deference, didacticism, ego and complacency in a heartless world, to prisons and border guards and walls—whether in our own minds or in the lives of our students, whether in Texas or in Palestine —and to quarantines, deletions, and closures. Goodbye to all that. She welcomed the unknown, the marvelous, the poetics of resistance, history, and agency.

Last June, on the day of the family funeral for Maxine we attended an informal student gathering and memorial here at TC, and heard a kaleidoscope of heart-felt remembrances. A theme circled in and out of the conversation as person after person expressed a common feeling: Maxine was one of my best friends. It was unrehearsed and genuine, spontaneous and intimate, and it’s a feeling echoing around the room today: Maxine and I were definitely best friends. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of us share that bond, and there’s one more message here, a lesson in the enormous power—can I say a kind of secular sacredness—to be found in being fully present, entirely at hand with another human being. That was another gift.

Maxine Greene—Presente!


BEING BAD: My Baby Brother and the School-to-Prison Pipeline

September 29, 2014

Here is another super-important book, just published and written by Crystal Laura, a former student and good friend. It’s called BEING BAD: My Baby Brother and the School-to-Prison Pipeline, and I wrote the Foreword (below). I sincerely hope people will check this out and Share widely:

I met Chris Smith through a thick plexiglass window, each of us scrunched onto a small metal stool and taking turns shouting hellos and introductions through a little metal grate in order to be heard above the din. Chris was incarcerated in Cook County Jail awaiting trial on a robbery charge, and I was visiting because I’d promised Crystal Laura, his sister and my student at the time as well as my friend then and now, that I would. The place was miserable: a dark and narrow hallway with maybe 15 of us visitors evenly distributed on our side of the impenetrable glass and concrete wall, waiting. We’d inched along the slow-snaking roped-off security line; we’d been run through metal detectors and then patted down; we’d been identity-checked and hand-stamped; we’d been ordered about, checked off, and registered; some of us had even been scolded by the turn-keys for our choice of pants or top and been banished, told to come back wearing “appropriate” clothing. After all that I thought for sure we’d be meeting in a big room seated at tables across from our friends or loved ones. No such thing: Chris and the other cuffed and chained Black men shuffled in and took seats on their side of the barrier, straining to be seen and heard. The stench of the slave market was everywhere.
“What’s up?” I shouted, and he smiled and shouted back: “Doing good; nice to meet you.” He was as Crystal had always described him: sharp, smiling, small in his jumbo-sized jump suit, and “cute as a button.”
With this courageous book Crystal Laura takes us on an odyssey into her cherished little brother’s world—jail and prison to be sure, but before that school and special education, the temptations and the perils of the streets, and right from the start a beloved family fighting with all its might to disrupt a narrative with its brutal conclusion seemingly already written in indelible ink for Chris. With an ethnographer’s endurance, a scholar’s intent, and a sister’s hopeful heart Crystal Laura has constructed a unique and morally-awake narrative of the twists and turns that confront kids like Chris everyday in every corner of America. There are surprises and insights on every page, lessons for teachers, parents, youth workers, and anyone concerned about the sorry state we’re in regarding the future of young men of color.
Dr. Crystal Laura calls herself a “sister/scholar” and that hybrid classification seems exactly right. Her writing ambitions are thoroughly linked to her deepest ethical ambitions—she is practicing the discipline of the heart. She is also practicing the discipline of the mind, willing to follow every lead, pursue every twist and turn in a relentless search for why things are as they are; the inspiration is entirely authentic: “I don’t know” and I must find out because our very lives depend on it. She knows clearly what she is writing for and what she’s writing against, what she hopes to change and combat, affirm and illuminate by entering this work into the public square. Far from a weakness, passionate regard and sisterly scholarship are a singular strength here.
She’s a gifted story-teller for sure, and her writing and research are anti-systematic, experimental, creative and generative, free from the violence of dogma and self-righteousness. This is a search and a struggle to make sense—and we can actually witness and become a party to that struggle on the page—a journey, not by a tourist, but by a pilgrim.
In school Chris eventually became a magnet for labels, and branded, the markers follow him around like flies, sometimes hemming him in, other times mocking him. He was inspected and appraised often, corrected and reformed regularly. Eventually the labels take over—he becomes his manila envelope and cumulative file, the sum of his statistical profile in the estimation of the institution—and the family desperately pursues contradictory strategies. Barbara, his fierce and formidable mother, decided to tentatively embrace an inadequate label hoping it would bring the promised focus and services; Crystal reached for her books and research papers to contextualize the situation and frame the personal in the social. But Chris wasn’t having any of it; he rejected both the psychological and the sociological. The alternative for him was logical: “I messed up. I have to take responsibility.” Chris resists the deficit theory, refuses the easy pathologizing of his circumstances, wanting his own agency and will to count for something. “Nothing about us without us” chant the disability activists today, and Chris echoes that sentiment.
I’m reminded of a headline from the Onion, a journal of humor and satire that warns of a growing epidemic among children: “An estimated 20 million U.S. children,” it asserts, are believed to suffer from a “poorly understood neurological condition called YTD, or Youthful Tendency Disorder.” The article details the early warning signs of YTD including sudden episodes of shouting and singing, conversations with imaginary friends, poor impulse control with regard to sugared snacks, preferring playtime and flights of fancy to schoolwork, and confusing oneself with animals and objects like airplanes. An imaginary mother whose child was recently diagnosed with YTD expresses guarded relief: “At least we know we weren’t bad parents,” she says hopefully. “We simply had a child who was born with a medical disorder.”
This scrap of satire works because it offers a fractured-mirror image of what’s actually happening, both in and outside of schools: children have become the objects of an all-pervasive and extremely toxic barrage of labels and stereotypes, their humanity terribly reduced in the process, their three-dimensional realities diminished, and their lived experiences eclipsed. We are surely headed for some brave new world of forced uniformity, unique mechanisms of disciplinary surveillance, obligatory obedience and compulsory conformity. We can see the school-to-prison pipeline looming large.
And prison it is. With millions of our fellow citizens living in cages and vanishing behind walls, a host of social problems and challenges are buried but not faced, and surely not solved. Poverty, unemployment, illiteracy, failing schools, homelessness, inadequate health care, substance abuse and addiction, mental illness—these are all within our power to answer, but only when we are willing to take an essential first step: opening our eyes and making an honest accounting of the human costs and the human possibilities before us.
Being Bad is a powerful tool in that effort. Intimate and intense, this unique work of memoir, history, and critical theory is filled with anguish, conflict, and contradiction—a place many of us inhabit but few are willing to expose so bravely. Crystal Laura helps all of us recognize the urgency of our work with young people and the responsibility we share in educating them.
In a lucid and entirely compelling conclusion Crystal Laura invites us to join hands with her and become part of the solution: listen to children and youth; protect them and challenge them; embrace them with generosity and hope. Her vision of teaching with love and joy and justice hits hard because we know how hard-earned that revelation is.
Faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

The Heart of Darkness, Indeed!

September 25, 2014

President Obama “issued a fervent call to arms” at the UN yesterday, according to the New York Times, as he “charted a muscular new course for the [US] in a turbulent world.”

Oy! That doesn’t sound good.

And it gets worse: “Russian aggression in Europe recalls the days when large nations trampled small ones in pursuit of territorial ambition.”

Recalls the days? It sounds like ancient history unless you replay the entire American experience up through yesterday, or turn your attention to Israel’s brutal assault on the people of Palestine. (Incidentally, this is difficult to keep straight: is Israel still a US client, or has the US become Israel’s miserable but smiling lap dog?)

President Obama reaches further: The brutality of the terrorists “forces us to look into the heart of darkness.”

He’s gone completely off the rails here, and I suggest he reread the Heart of Darkness and dig a little deeper into its significance then as well as its meaning for us today.

Marlowe observes at the outset the fierce reality of imperial conquest: “They grabbed what they could get for the sake of what was to be got. It was just robbery with violence, aggravated murder on a great scale, and men going at it blind. . . .”

The despicable and homicidal acts of a band of zealous terrorists should not be allowed to wipe clean our collective consciousness of the wicked international system that underlies the tumultuous and roiling world we inhabit.

Marlowe discovers in due course that everything he’d been taught to fear and loath about Africa, all the white supremacist logic and assumptions were actually deep inside the Europeans themselves. The horror, the sickness, the heart of darkness, is us.

That’s Joseph Conrad’s entire point.


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