Since 2005 when I began teaching as a graduate assistant I’ve taught in some capacity. Most of that time I’ve been in the college classroom with the exception of a two-year stint as a high school English teacher. Rarely a week goes by that I don’t have contact with a former student. This past week I was asked to write a letter of recommendation for a young lady who hopes to attend graduate school at LSU. I also had a lively and interesting chat via Facebook messenger with a young man I taught years ago who raised questions about something I’d shared on Facebook. I have also heard from a handful of young people who are currently college students; these young people are bewildered, to say the least.
The upheaval currently gripping this country is difficult for an adult to process, and this turmoil is no doubt amplified if you’re a young person in college trying to make sense of the world and find your ideological footing amidst a sea of conflicting messages. What I have told those who’ve asked me how to process this tragic national turmoil is echoed in this piece by Ben Shapiro, namely that it is important to understand that the chaos engulfing our nation is intentional. It is not an unfortunate byproduct of the death of George Floyd; it is the result of intentional efforts by nefarious actors to sow division.
It was not enough that nearly everyone condemned the killing of George Floyd. The circumstances of his death should have, in a healthy, normal environment, presented an excellent opportunity to initiate needed discussions about reforming the police with particular attention to police unions that so often protect abusive cops repeatedly until someone ends up dead. Unfortunately our media, admittedly often with the help of politicians, creates and perpetuates an unhealthy, vitriolic atmosphere at all times during the Trump era, but this is an election year, and so a nation united in mourning the tragic death of Mr. Floyd, a nation engaging in healthy discussions about police reform, was simply not something to be tolerated. The moment of unity had to be disrupted.
The media saw Mr. Floyd’s death as an opportunity to introduce all manner of ridiculous ideological purity tests that continue to be used to shame and scold anyone who doesn’t take the performative steps prescribed by Big Brother.
Instead of maturely discussing police reform Americans are busy policing speech and issuing giant scarlet Cs to designate the Cancelled, those whose public statements don’t meet the rigorous standards of the Thought Police.
We have suffered through one circus act after another. We have watched curiously as Saints’ quarterback Drew Brees caved to the mob demanding he retract his statement that he stands for our national anthem. Mr. Brees and his wife, a happily married couple who set a wonderful example for all by honoring their marriage vows and routinely donating millions of dollars to charity, both cowered before the mob and issued statements admitting their guilt, though what exactly they are guilty of remains a mystery.
On Monday of this week Congressional Democrats pulled what is perhaps their most ridiculous stunt yet when they donned kente cloths and kneeled for a photo op. Shakespeare was right: All the world’s a stage, and in the visual world of social media we play dress-up for the cameras instead of getting down to the business of actually changing anything for the better.
People crave order. Even young children crave order though they don’t consciously realize this. Children thrive when they know what to expect; this is true in the elementary classroom, and it is true at home. A bedtime routine can do wonders for a child’s sleep habits.
Shortly after my daughter was born nearly a decade ago I began writing, having not done so since I was a graduate student. Becoming a mother is wonderful, and it is also hard. It is a difficult adjustment for any woman but especially women who thrive in well-controlled environments. I started writing a blog. When she slept, I would write (and, yes, I would also sometimes sleep). To bring order to words, to create something from nothing and then edit it and polish it to perfection, was (and remains) immensely satisfying for me. It is how I meet my need for order when everything else seems out of control.
In her 2016 memoir Scrappy Little Nobody Anna Kendrick says this: “I thrive in structure. I drown in chaos.” The underlying theme of the thoughts students have shared with me over the last few weeks echoes Ms. Kendrick’s words: I am drowning. I don’t understand the chaos, and I am being told I contribute to it, and I am confused.
I remember life before social media; the young people I’ve taught do not. Their self-concept has been and continues to be shaped by social media. This is something those trying to sow division in our country understand well. I will share now what I have told my students: You do not have to comment. If you choose to express yourself, you can and should do so using your own phrasing; you do not have to stick to the approved list of words and phrases the mob demands you use. You do not have to post the black square. You do not need people in your life who shame you for not using your social media in the exact manner in which they deem best. You haven’t lost your mind; the social scolds have lost theirs.
The world in which you are immersed when you scroll on your phone is, mercifully, not an accurate representation of the world in which we live. Are we a perfect nation? Absolutely not. Are we a nation of vicious racists on the verge of a race war? We are not unless we allow the media to continue to convince us otherwise.