I went over Margaret Atwood's "Letter to America" on Monday. I usually have them read that for homework, we discuss it for a little bit on Monday, I have them read "When they Learned to Yelp" by Dave Eggers, then have them write a short paper about 9/11. Both pieces have a lot to do with 9/11, so I like to wrap it up with the paper, because I love grading papers.
The class started off with an air of violence in the air. The students in the class were frowning and had looks in their eyes like Sean Hannity did when Romney dropped out of the race. "Alright. Let's start off with general feelings about the piece... what did you see that jumped out at you?"
What came next was a tirade of right-wing propoganda. Not only did they see everything Atwood said as an insult to our country and everything we stand for (freedom, spreading that freedom, being the best country on the planet, being infallable, etc.), Atwood was also Canadian. In the students' eyes, this immediately nixed all authority she had. She had neither the right nor the ability to discuss our mistakes in a public foum. Not only that, Canada's not a great country; it's full of French people (their words, not mine).
I went into a long diatribe about how, in many ways, Canada is doing a lot better than the United States... higher literacy, they aren't in quite as bad of a financial funk since the Iraq war costs us somewhere in the lower billions of dollars each month. I even pointed out that she loves America and says so many times during the piece.
"It's propaganda. This is the sort of stuff that makes people love Barak Obama even though they know nothing about him!" Another student pointed out that everything she says is opinion.
I looked at them for a moment. Yes, they were serious.
I asked the students if this was good advice she was doling out, and they started packing up their things. Every single student was packing up their things to leave the classroom. I looked up at the clock and saw I'd kept them 5 minutes over class time. I'd spent 50 minutes defending a stupid Canadian. Why did Atwood have to be Canadian!? Of all the countries!
Anyway, many of you are familiar with Naomi Shihab Nye's "Letter to a Would-be Terrorist." It has the same reasoning as the Atwood piece, only directed toward terrorists. It got a positive reaction, which punched holes in a lot of their arguments. I felt so good about myself, I bought a candy bar in the check-out line at the grocery store: Snickers. A big one.
I'd earned it.