In the days after extremists murdered magazine staff in France, I read essays from several journalists I admire. This admiration reminds me of what I wish for and what I work for on behalf of students. The first essay was written by David Kirkpatrick, a former student from a school where I used to work. This fact by itself occasions a certain pride. Beyond this feeling, though, I admire the perspective he brings to the subject because he lives with his family in Cairo. He knows his subject because he has made the commitment to inhabit the place. As transplanted correspondent, he has credibility. In a sense, he has done his homework. His new home is his work. The second essay, by David Brooks, I admire for its memorable metaphor–that and its ability to draw valuable distinctions in this challenging conversation. For example, he distinguishes between the “adult table” and “kids’ table” of journalists. Though I do not entirely agree with his placement of some professionals, his image remains with me. Finally, the third essay, by Nicholas Kristof, shares qualities with the first two. In addition, it expresses a thoughtful caution for those of us who might react to extreme intolerance with our own version of the same: “One of [the] things I’ve learned in journalism is to beware of perceiving the world through simple narratives, because then new information is mindlessly plugged into those story lines. In my travels . . . extremist Muslims have shared with me their own deeply held false narratives of America as an oppressive state controlled by Zionists and determined to crush Islam. That’s an absurd caricature, and we should be wary ourselves of caricaturing a religion as diverse as Islam.” Kristof’s essay invites me to imagine the world I wish for and work for. I wonder what extremists imagine as their intended world. For my part, as a teacher, I wish for and work for students who can respond credibly to challenging situations, create memorable metaphors and beware of unquestioned thoughts.
p.s. I shared a draft of this paragraph with my students, as a way of showing them some of the reasons we do what we do together, in and out of class. Periodically, I need to show these reasons to myself and to them. The events of this past week reinforce my sense of purpose as one adult guide of their development as writers and thinkers.
photo credit: http://www.endlessicons.com/free-icons/fountain-pen-icon/