I had an experience the other day that I’m having a really hard time getting over.
Every week, I give my students a couple of quotes that I ask the kids to ruminate and write about. Last week’s offerings were “a person who is nice to you but not nice to the waiter is not a nice person,” and “what wisdom can you find that is greater than kindness?” I posted some critical thinking questions in which I asked the students to consider whether they could genuinely engage with a person who, because of his or her beliefs, thought that they (the student) was beneath them in some way.
At the end of the week, I collect the students’ writings and we have a discussion about the topic. For the purposes of jump starting that conversation, I read them this essay in which I muse about a comment I heard someone make about Rick Santorum’s being a “nice guy,” and whether or not I can give my energy and care to someone who really, truly believes that I am a lesser person than they are.
We were having a pretty good conversation – the kids were struggling with the implicit “black and white” quality of the questions we were engaged in – is there a line one crosses between being a “good” person and not? – when one of the students piped up and said, on no uncertain terms, that she thinks that Rick Santorum is absolutely, completely, and unequivocally correct in both his beliefs and his plans for the country. She went on to say that it is an outrage that any employer (but particularly religious employers) should be “forced to pay for contraception when they don’t believe in it,” that there was “never a time when abortion is okay,” and that she would support legislation that would force a woman to gestate and deliver a child conceived in rape.
I was floored by this, not only because, in general, we are a pretty liberal and open-minded bunch at CHS, but also because I had, to that point, yet to meet a woman who was so enthusiastically, almost gleefully, supportive of measures that would seek to limit her own freedom.
I decided to press the question of insurance coverage and tried to keep as far away from the religious implications of her comments as I could. In the end, though, she was completely unmoved by the facts I presented to her about how insurance coverage works as part of a compensation package; she believes what she believes, and no one is going to change her mind.
I have to remember that this child is a fundamentalist Christian; in fact, I’m pretty sure (though I’ve not inquired too closely) that she’s of the pre-Vatican II, Mel Gibson-style brand of Catholic. I can’t quite get beyond her obstinate lack of thinking, though; she’s very clearly not following her unfettered support for this candidate through to its logical conclusion – unless, of course, she aspires to the life of an obedient, fruitful wife. Regardless, I’m troubled by this encounter; I would like to think that, despite the influence of their upbringing, my students would be willing to engage in some energetic critical thinking, and if ever there were a time for energetic critical thinking, it’s now.