Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Tucson’s Day of Infamy

Saturday, January 8 was and will be forever, Tucson’s Day of Infamy. It is also America’s day. The term “infamy” is most frequently associated with the attack on Pearl Harbor which brought the United States into World War II. Not analogous here—other than both are examples of sudden and violent attack, personal violence and killing.

Like any and all of our thoughtful citizens, I am sorry.

I am sorry for all the victims.

I am sorry for all the victim’s families.

I am sorry for our democratic institutions.

I am sorry that our culture in all probability provided so many examples and stimuli for the deranged shooter of intemperate anger, irrationality, and disrespect substituting for an enlightened, rational, respecting, political process.

I am sorry for the fellow students of the shooter at Pima Community College

I am sorry for the leaders of Pima Community College, several of whom I know personally and one very closely.

I am sorry for the shooter’s family.

I am sorry for the shooter.

I am sorry for all of us. We have all been attacked, again. The peace, tranquility, sense of security and inviolability of us all has been pierced and weakened.

There is a part of me that wants to just shrug this all off and say “What can we expect? We live in a crazy country that encourages many forms of violence, and worships the ethos, the mystique, of the law of the gun”. I am in despair that nothing, no matter how many senseless slaughters, will change our country’s love affair with guns and our unwillingness to rationally restrict their use to protect us all. We didn’t after Columbine. We didn’t after Virginia Tec. We won’t after Tucson.

What are the implications of all this for higher education, to allow myself to think narrowly here for a moment?

Surely, we are going to be under much more pressure to police our students, scrutinize them more systematically, report aberrant behavior, and become a first line of defense for the protection of larger society. What are the societal institutions where we can most likely spot potential assassins who demographically are much more likely to be adolescents or young adults: prisons, high schools, colleges and universities, and the military. Wow. I never thought before about the commonalities of the members of that category.

Do we now need to add to our required curricula the subject of “self defense”?

I predict the smaller, rural, especially private, colleges and universities in their marketing will be even more intentional about suggesting they are safer, more secure, and peaceful. Interesting to note that the three most recent mass shootings by college students have all been by students from larger, public, institutions.

And I predict families, and too students who don’t think they are immortal, will be elevating personal safety as a factor in college choice.

In America, this can happen to any of us, anytime, anywhere. In this respect, higher education has potential lethal commonality. The outside world impinges on us all. There is no keeping it out.

-John Gardner

Monday, January 10, 2011

How Might I/You Live Differently This Year?

I write this blog post during the calendar context of the first week of the new year. This gives me lots of opportunities to listen and observe people as they report their New Year’s Resolutions. Had an acquaintance ask me the other day: “How do you want to live differently?” This was/is an important question. Have you posed that to anyone yet this year? Has anyone posed this to you? How about asking this one of our students?

This is not the same as “what is your New Year’s Resolution”? No, this is about how you would like to “live”.

In my own case, I had to really think about this.

And finally I responded that I would like to walk more and read more. The former is not because I don’t get enough exercise. I do. As a 66 year old man I run two miles most days. In addition, on weekends I do a lot of walking, which is really hiking for I do this on a mountain top in western North Carolina on which perches Betsy Barefoot’s and my home. And I would like to do even more of it. It feels so good to be out there in the beauty, almost in any kind of weather, and what a stimulus to good thinking and reflection.

And, as for reading, well, I already do a lot of that. But I would like to do more. And to do that would take doing less professional work at night and more pleasure reading.

Now if I could just ratchet those two things alone up, even moderately, I would be living differently. Quality of life is a matter of how we use our time, the choices we make. And improvement comes, usually, by degree(s) (=pun).

Now how can we apply this question to our students? This is not just a beginning of the year question. This should be an everyday question. An everyday opportunity to revisit our purposes and how we are living, or not living congruently.

I know how I want to live, and largely it is how I am living, although I would be pleased with myself if I could learn a few things that I am not already good at. Apply that to your students too.

And I am very clear how I don’t want to live. The Transcendental essayist, Henry David Thoreau, said it best: “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation”. I believe that, particularly in our country now as the gross inequalities of our society grow larger seemingly by the day. I don’t want to live feeling that way and am thankful I don’t. Again, what about our students?

-John Gardner