Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Orwellian Irony

I taught my LIS class Terrorism: Meaning and Media class today.
One of the topics discussed was privacy in the post 9/11 world. The (vocal) majority of the class seemed to believe that people should not be allowed to learn facts which would be of high value to terrorists (how to make a bomb for example). Or if they tried to learn such things, they should be watched or arrested. This was a good discussion since the first article I gave them was about a 16 year old in the UK being arrested pretty much for that.
I expanded the conversation to discuss dangerous 'ideology' such as learning about terrorist organizations, or other 'bad things.' I mentioned how governments had frequently tried to censor ideologies they disagreed with, even our own. I asked the students if we should be allowed to read works like the Communist Manifesto or Mein Kamph. After a brief discussion in which I mention having read those both as an undergraduate, one of my students, expressed some concern for me personally. I will try to paraphrase her accurately.
She: "May I be Frank? I don't want to get in trouble." (with my I assume)
Me: "Of course, say what you like."
She: "Well...a lot of students at this school already think you are pretty weird. I mean you say a lot of weird things, especially in this class,"
Me: "I am not too surprised by that... I aim to be weird on occasion." (Such exclamations are not that unusual)
She: "Well you might want to be careful.. I mean you might not want to mention reading stuff like that."
Me: "Whah?" I think I mumbled something like Luke Skywalker in the Cantina "I'll be careful" or something like that.
Sadly, it was so unexpected, and at the end of class that I didn't really have time to put that statement in the context of the rest of the class. I hope I can remember it Thursday and make it a good jumping off point for discussion.

I assume she meant it in the sense that might worry that my odd reputation among students would only be reinforced (not that I was in danger of the thought police), but I wish I had clarity of thought to jump on it right then. Teaching is often like being in an argument where someone says something mean or whatever, and then as you leave the scene you think of the perfect comeback. Of course, in teaching, we then jot that down and save it for the next time. And then it doesn't come up, so we try to manufacture the scene again, and it fails miserably. Sigh.


At 5:42 PM, Blogger amanda said...

Let us know what happens. I'm curious as to whether she's worried about your reputation w/ the students, the school, or the NSA.
Either way, it should be pointed out that knowledge is only a crime under fascism, and that not knowing the ideology of one's enemies (ie, not reading Mein Kampf or, perhaps a better example for her, the Koran) is a serious tactical mistake.
In fact, if you're *not* studying up on their ideology and trying to understand it, we have less of a chance of defeating "them"! & you're for terrorism! so there.

At 4:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your students scare me.



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