Beyond the Finish Line

May 17, 2019, 20:45

Be a little careless. I’m done, almost. I taught my last class for Shanghai Normal University Tianhua College today. I don’t know how it went. My eyes are closed. I am typing. I think it went well. They gave me applause when it was all over. I collected their final essays on the similarities and differences between China and America. Then, they evaluated me via QR code and cellular device. Thanks, Huawei, for letting the Party plant their tendrils into your tech company and for staying out of America. Even though your phones are less expensive and better than the alternatives, we’d rather you didn’t do business in the land of the free and home of the brave. We don’t like Big Brother. We’d just as soon snuff out his lies and oversight and central planning and inner party.

I don’t know how it went. I don’t know if they’ll ever do anything about the things I said. Do you care? I asked. No, they answered. And that’s what I expected. Most of them won’t care. They’ll enjoy the comfort and the full stomachs and the education and the healthcare, but they’ll turn a blind eye to the past and present evils of their government. Evils? Tiananmen, Taiwan, Tibet: The Three T’s that you’re not supposed to talk about. When I did, Selina, a student, pointed at the cameras in the classroom to remind me that everything I say and do is recorded and watched, maybe. I know, I said. I don’t like it. The cameras are not there for safety, for accountability. The cameras are there so you stay in line. So you don’t cross the Party. So you don’t say anything that could even be remotely construed as “anti-China.” But go ahead, say all the anti-American things you want. We don’t mind. There are microphones, too, somewhere. At least, that’s what I’m told. I don’t know that I’ve seen them. But they are there?

This is The Information Age. Data, Data, Data. Digital everything. We’ve got stuff flying at our eyeballs constantly. If we are to be critical thinkers who engage society and culture in a meaningful way, we need to learn how to parse that information for ourselves. We need to learn to separate appearance from reality by relying on authentic evidence from trustworthy sources.

Who can we trust?

People are dishonest. They tell lies to protect themselves. This happens at a small, personal level AND at a big, societal level. Here are some historical lies: Hitler and the Jews, Nixon and Watergate, Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky. We know that people in power are prone to making big mistakes. We know that people in power sometimes hide the truth or just plain lie to cover up their mistakes. How should we respond?

Do you care?

Are you moved?

To what extent?

Will you think?

Will you talk?

Will you act?

So say the students: No, we do not care. Most of us, anyway. We are not moved. To be moved is a risk to one’s safety. I’d rather stay ignorant. I’d rather not care. It’s safer; it’s more comfortable. Some of us—say, two or three in a class of thirty—are moved. We will remember the things you’ve said. We will not forget how you made us feel. We will miss you. We love you. I love you too, I guess. Though, I pity you. I pity myself. I am small and insignificant. What can I say? What can I do? I’ve enjoyed teaching and learning from all of you. You are bright, young students and you can do great things. I hope something stirred in you this semester. I hope you found something I said to be uncomfortable.

Big Ideas:

  1. Carpe Diem! But be smart about it. (Dead Poets Society)
  2. Am I in a cave? I don’t know. (“The Allegory of the Cave”)
  3. Be careful who you trust. (Research & Final Essay)

That’s all folks!

Until next time, Mr. Rogers. Adios. Zàijiàn.

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