by Gerard Donnelly Smith
For the 30 teachers killed by the Taliban
Sister, mothers hide your faces and your philosophy,
Keep biology hidden beneath the kitchen sink,
My daughters, my daughters, hidden in your gardens,
Wash away the blood and keep my heart beating.
Whisper words forbidden when the lights dim,
And darkness falls upon the minds of men.
And when the burnings begin
Draw your symbols in the dust
And conquer ignorance.
Brothers, fathers stop the murder, stop the madness
The Poet said; Love your enemy as your friend.
Teach your children, teach your children well
To remember the songs to sing,
When darkness falls upon the minds of men,
When no one can wash away their sin,
Once the burnings begin:
Draw your symbols in the dust,
And conquer ignorance.
(Swans - January 1, 2007) Once, a history professor on the Marxist list said that you can't radicalize students; he did not believe one could, considering the solipsism, apathy, and consumer mentality of youth. Yet radicalize them, we must. If liberal arts professors deny the importance of inspiring skepticism, critical inquiry, and the search for truth, then the demagogues, theocrats, despots, and robber barons win.
Professors, as well as other teachers, often become insurgent when the political system becomes oppressive, when free speech means parroting falsehoods, when liberty means to take liberties, when equality means more for the rich and less for the poor, when murder becomes the method to instill obedience, when fear and terror become the catch phrases of civilizations whose leaders betray their oaths.
Thomas Jefferson knew the value of a well educated populace, imploring politicians to "Preach... a crusade against ignorance; establish and improve the law for educating the common people. Let our countrymen know that the people alone can protect us against these evils [of monarchial government]." Jefferson understood that only an educated populace could protect its own liberty, understood that only literate citizens could consciously participate in democracy; he knew that the educated citizen has the greater ability to distinguish between truth and the political rhetoric, has the greater ability to resist fear, resist pressures to conform, and to make independent choices. Such citizens are antithetical to theocratic, dictatorial, and monarchial governments that require education to disseminate religious or political doctrine. When such governments seize power the opposing intelligentsia is purged. When a repressive government comes into power, these governments often blame teachers for indoctrinating students with the previous "false" doctrine. In order to establish the new doctrine, repressive governments force teachers to change their curriculum, ban previous texts both secular and religious, and often require loyalty oaths. If these teachers refuse, they will be dismissed, jailed, killed, or forced into exile.
In Mongolia, over 10,000 Buddhist monks who controlled the educational system were executed during the Communist party's campaign to destroy Buddhism's influence. The Chinese invasion and occupation of Tibet lead to a similar repression, and forced the Dali Lama into exile. Under Stalin, Buddhism was purged from the USSR, as were other "intellectual" groups -- e.g., Katyn Forest 1940: over 22,000 Polish reservists were massacred; among the dead were teachers, professors, writers, and chaplains. Such examples are too easy to provide, too numerous to recount here.
Teachers who continue to teach tolerance rather than xenophobia, who teach science rather than blind faith, who teach philosophy rather than dogma, must be honored and protected. When sectarian violence erupts into civil war, educators often become targets. According to IRIN (UN news and information service), "since February, nearly 180 professors have been killed" for belonging to opposing sects, or for as one killer's note stated "Death for those who are responsible for oppression in the classrooms." Because of this violence against them, over 3,000 teachers have fled Iraq since the US occupation (BAGHDAD, 24 August, 2006). Too often teachers are caught in the crossfire.
Teachers who have sacrificed their lives for their profession must be honored; those teachers who refuse to be censored, who refuse to teach dogma, who will not be silenced, deserve our utmost respect. They do not need a monument to their sacrifice, nor a national holiday to mark their deaths. We pay them our utmost respect when we continue their mission, hold fast to their vision that all knowledge is worthy of our consideration and that those who restrict the imagination, who prohibit the exchange of ideas, and who enforce their narrow, parochial view upon the populace must be resisted.
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