Yesterday I wrote a blog post about the perils of single issue politics and the erosion of critical thinking especially as these things pertain to teaching. Here are the things I suspect I’ll be accused of saying which I absolutely did not say: that racism doesn’t exist; that white people don’t have inordinate privileges; that minority opinions are fanatical; that the only way forward in the civic square is to become some kind of moderate.
I do not believe any of those things.
What I do think is that the common good has been demoted to fantasy. Listening to others is considered a waste of time. Any position that’s front loaded with rage is good.
Because these things are largely the case teaching is more important now than ever. From pre-school to grad school teachers have the opportunity to promote what Paolo Freire described as entering into reality:
“The more radical the person is, the more fully he or she enters into reality so that, knowing it better, he or she can transform it. This individual is not afraid to confront, to listen, to see the world unveiled. This person is not afraid to meet the people or to enter into a dialogue with them. This person does not consider himself or herself the proprietor of history or of all people, or the liberator of the oppressed; but he or she does commit himself or herself, within history, to fight at their side.”
Notice Freire’s fascinating disavowal of the egoistic considerations that accompany the impulse toward dogmatism.
Here’s another Freire quote I find useful:
“Because love is an act of courage, not of fear, love is a commitment to others. No matter where the oppressed are found, the act of love is commitment to their cause–the cause of liberation.”
I fervently believe love—a true experience of love—is abstaining from seeing the self only through singular positions. Liberation is knowing that disability, blackness, queerness, gender are bio political rhetorics of social constraint. Every. Last. One. Is an impoverishing tale.
Rage from a narrow ledge but you will be bitter and exploited.
My friend, the poet Preston Hood, who, among other things is a wounded war veteran writes about piercing through the illusions that separate us in a poem entitled “The Vocabulary Between Us:—
There is a thin covering
Between us & the world.
Sometimes it is the inward blue
Of our souls learning what to become.
Other times I hold you before me
Able to love all of what I have now.
Succumbing to individualized or identity rage is what the oppressors want of you.
This is what teachers must teach.
ABOUT: Stephen Kuusisto is the author of the memoirs Have Dog, Will Travel; Planet of the Blind (a New York Times “Notable Book of the Year”); and Eavesdropping: A Memoir of Blindness and Listening and of the poetry collections Only Bread, Only Light and Letters to Borges. A graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and a Fulbright Scholar, he has taught at the University of Iowa, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, and Ohio State University. He currently teaches at Syracuse University where he holds a University Professorship in Disability Studies. He is a frequent speaker in the US and abroad. His website is StephenKuusisto.com.
(Photo picturing the cover of Stephen Kuusisto’s new memoir “Have Dog, Will Travel” along with his former guide dogs Nira (top) and Corky, bottom.) Bottom photo by Marion Ettlinger