My professor modeled a grammar and linguistics lesson as an example of ways we can slip the boring English stuff into more exciting curriculum. She was specifically modeling a mini-lesson one could use in a secondary school that teaches the difference between denotation and connotation, using the refugee/evacuee debate that has been in news media this week. As I always do when contemporary politics are discussed in the classroom, I scanned the room to see my peers’ responses. I glanced over just in time to catch a guy turn to his friend and say
“Well, they told them to get out, so…”
He shrugged. Massive loss of human life and all he can muster is an “oh well” and a shrug. I don’t know what my face looked like at that moment, but he caught my glance for a second and likely registered my horror. He didn’t appear to care.
This aftermath of hurricane Katrina has left me feeling crazy. Livid. Violent. It was all I could do not to climb over those tables and strangle his cavalier, arrogant neck.
Anne, a friend who also attends my university, is experiencing a different but no less removed debate in her classes:
It started on Friday in my social theory discussion group. Our graduate TA started the session by asking if any of us knew anyone involved in “the situation down in New Orleans”, or if anyone would like to say anything about “the situation.” A gal raised her hand. Her sister was on her way back to university, but had to turn around once the storm hit. She’ll probably attend a local college for this semester, maybe even next semester, too.
Another gal raised her hand. “I think that what is happening down there is horrible and totally unexcusable. Our government has totally failed.”
A guy raised his hand. “My major is emergency management, so I’ve been talking about this for a few days now. What people need to understand is that this isn’t an easy situation, and all that can be done is being done.”
Another guy: “Yeah. Plus, those people had what, a week’s notice that this storm was going to hit? They had plenty of time to leave.”
A gal: “Look. The government knew New Orleans was vulnerable because of the levees, but they never got repaired. Plus, all the response teams are in Iraq so there’s no one left to help these people.”
“There are response teams to help people; they just don’t want to leave. People have been shooting at the helicopters that are trying to bring food and water!”
A debate ensued between those who saw the situation as a failure at the government level and those who view it as a failure of the individual to leave when told. Many sat quiet. The discussion took up the entire meeting.
Yesterday, my history instructor started class by asking if anyone would like to say anything about “the situation in New Orleans.” A guy raised his hand.
“Well, this is certainly a bad thing that happened, but those people had what, a week’s notice to evacuate?”
Another guy added, “Two weeks.”
“Yeah, they had two week’s notice, and they didn’t leave.”
After the third person to talk echoed the same thought, the instructor said it is important for us to pay attention to what is really going on in New Orleans. Then he started his lecture.