An essay penned for the school paper, Feb 3, 2017
This was not, in fact, the piece I intended to write. But as I scanned the news this morning, I was compelled to comment. Let me say first that my intent is not political; some things bear urgency regardless of where one stands on any political or policy spectrum. The issue to which I refer was a statement by a representative of the current administration made in defense of a recent policy decision. As an example of why this policy was needed, the representative cited the ‘Bowling Green Massacre,’ an event which, as I am sure you know, never occurred.
My eighth-grade English recently finished reading George Orwell’s beloved fable, Animal Farm. In it, and in its longer, more complex successor, Nineteen Eighty-Four, Orwell focuses on many themes germane to the discussion of politics in any time period. One of the more subtle, and yet vital of these themes is that when the populace (or in the case of Animal Farm, the farm animals), can be convinced that things that they saw happen did not really occur, or that things that did not happen actually did, then truth no longer exists. As his protagonist, Winston Smith says, “The Party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.” Moreover, and perhaps more significantly, when truth becomes subject to interpretation, whim, or politics, meaningful speech of any kind becomes impossible.
We are a nation of wondrous diversity, and our strength has always been the dialogue and exchange between opposite ends of many different spectrums: political, ethnic, religious, social, and economic. But such discussion, to be meaningful, relies upon a core foundation that truth can be, if not found precisely, then at least productively pursued. It is that same foundation that I suspect brings most of us to our school family. It is certainly the reason I teach. While I will not deny my concern over the tenuous position of truth and meaningful dialogue in these days of ‘alternative facts,’ I take tremendous hope and inspiration from the joyous pursuit of truth and the quality of the dialogue I see among our students.