Saturday, February 18, 2006

Helping the People of Darfur

The flier in my mailbox had all the indications that it was written by a 15 year old girl--the "bubbly" letters, the lack of any planned presentation, the youthful yet naive enthusiasm. Buy Chipotle and/or McDonald's at lunch, it exhorts, and help feed people in Darfur!

If you don't know what or where Darfur is, go to Instapundit (see blogroll at left) and type Darfur into the search engine there (scroll down, it's on the right). You'll see post after post, going back a couple of years, chronicling the story that most of the mainstream press has all but ignored: a civil-war-induced famine of epic proportions. Read about the murders of towns, the systematic rape, everything you expect in a Rwanda-like African horror.

And then marvel at the irony of scarfing down a huge burrito to help the starving, terrorized people there.

There's nothing we're going to do to help those people. There are two groups of people eating in Darfur--the government soldiers with firearms, and the militia soldiers with firearms. Everyone else goes hungry. If you want to help the helpless there, send them firearms so that they, too, can eat.

I mentioned that to a few of my classes, and it wasn't long before the instigator of this food sale was in my classroom wanting to talk to me. She was mortified--mortified!--that she didn't have faculty support for this good cause. She'd called the White House and left a message for the President, asking him to "do something". I mean, she cares!

I don't fault the girl (who may or may not be 15, but she's close) for her youthful idealism. I fault her for making a mistake that will cause huge problems later in her life. As I told her, "Think with your brain. Feel with your heart." When you try to think with your heart you do stupid things, like she's doing now. I have no doubt she truly cares, but she doesn't know what she's talking about.

Here are a few things she told me:

1. I don't know enough about the world. A teenage girl told me this. I suppressed a chuckle.
2. The reason we (the US) don't do anything about this is because there's no oil there. I wasn't aware that there was no oil in the Sudan--someone should let the Chinese know.
3. The reason we (the US) aren't doing anything about Iran is because there's no oil there.
4. The reason we invaded Iraq was to take the oil--which explains low gas prices over the last year, I guess.

Bottom line, the girl feels strongly about the issue but doesn't know a thing about what she's talking about.

The short conversation left the realm of the rational and entered the twilight zone when she asked me if I'd have done anything to stop the Holocaust. Can you see where this is going? I told her that a bake sale at a high school would have done nothing to stop the Holocaust. You know what did stop the Holocaust? Armed men. Millions of armed men. American, British, Commonwealth, Soviet soldiers--they stopped the Holocaust. Men with firearms cause a lot of problems in the world, but men with firearms also solve a lot of problems in the world. Want to help the people of Darfur? Give them weapons.

She stormed out. Her parents later called the office and complained that I was undermining their daughter's project. One of our Vice Principals, for whom I have a lot of respect, asked if I was telling my students not to participate in the fundraiser. No, I said, I told them if they want a burrito or a Big Mac then they should by all means go buy one, but if they think a cent of that money is going to help the starving in Darfur they are mistaken. He said I shouldn't have addressed the issue since it's officially sanctioned by the student government and school administration. I told him that if I can't even address in class things that are going on in school.... I didn't address it after we spoke.

The school newspaper came out the next period, and in it was an article about Darfur. A student came to me later in the day and said that if I hadn't told him the day before about what's really going on in Darfur, he'd have bought the article's slant hook, line, and sinker. He thanked me for giving him an opposing view by which he could better judge for himself what's going on.

Some will no doubt question my actions. But look at that result.

Update: 3/2/06: At least I was talking about a school event. This time. :-)


Walter E. Wallis said...

I advocate what I call the Pink Pistol project. When the women in a nation become of sexual target age, they would be given a pink pistol and instructions on how to use it. Any man found in posession of a pink pistol would be assumed to have stole it and would be subjected to severe punishment and ridicule.
The down side of this program would be a great increase in goat abuse.

Anonymous said...

My first indication that something was seriously wrong in the secondary school system (let's be honest: we don't much associate with each other, or converse) was when not one, but three of my students objected to the term "normal distribution" in stats class, and insisted that it was a value judgment.

It's gotten worse since.

Ann Coulter is speaking at the university this week. I'm sure the auditorium will be full of screaming moonbats.

Dan Edwards said...

"....the top brass don't like him taling so much, .....there's things you just can't put in the minds of those kids....."

(Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, THE LAST DJ)

Good thing you didn't let your students know it is also a religious issue in Dahfar.....Muslims (those with the guns) against Infidels......

Whats up with slanted journalism in your school newspaper? What are they teaching those kids, journalism or public relations/political correctness ?

Anonymous said...

If I think I know who your talking about(the girl), and if here responses are indeed what you say, this is hilarious. No oil in Iran? I cant help but to totally agree with you, in the fact that armed men stop the world's atrocities. This issue sometimes gets twisted around, but the fact is like you so eloquently put it, give them weapons and they wont be so hungry anymore. I also felt John's comment in class was funny when he said we are eating to feed starving people. Kind of ironic?

On another note, this sometimes goes against my own beliefs but I do hold some crediblity to Charlton Heston's credo as he calls it, which says: "There are no good guns, there are no bad guns, a gun in the hand of a good man is no threat to anyone, except bad people."

Anonymous said...

Her idealism is completely normal for an adolescent. She's learning to deal with issues beyond her immediate world and she (understandably) oversimplifies things in order to deal with it.
Explicitly challenging her opinion will lead to more complicated thinking and help her and other students think critically about the world. I do worry that just telling students there's "nothing we're going to do to help those people" further encourages simplified thinking among some students (or helps them ignore the issue), but it sounds like some students are starting to think more about this issue.

Darren said...

Of course her idealism is normal--that's why it's called youthful idealism!

My discussion wasn't an attempt to shut her down. It was an attempt to get her (and all other students) to think about what they're actually doing.

Darren said...

Joanne Jacobs linked here from her blog.

The comments are interesting. I take a hit in at least one of them, but the others illustrate the point I was trying to make--that this is nothing more than a feel-good activity with no harmful, yet no beneficial outcome.

Anonymous said...

Actually, Darren, you had no facts to back up your assertion that there would be no beneficial outcome. You're probably right, but it sounds as if your message was obscured by your method.

Anonymous said...

TangoMan linked to your post in the comments thread of one my posts about the essence of critical thinking. Here was my take on it, which I posted on the comments thread there:

I don't have a problem with questioning the effectiveness of raising money for Darfur. Youthful activists should learn early to find out what the money they raise will be used for and whether it will be used effectively. They should also be taught to educate themselves thoroughly on the causes for which they are fighting. Clearly, the young girl in the post was not ready to debate and support her point of view.

But Darren's tone and negativity bother me, particularly coming from a high school teacher. I don't like his mocking of the "bubbly" letters (do I detect a sligtht whiff of sexism there, perhaps?) or the general mockery of a very young student who is trying (albeit ineffectually) to accomplish something.

I think that he lost the opportunity for a teaching moment. He very well may be right when he proclaims, "There's nothing we're going to do to help those people" because the soldiers are taking all the food for themselves. But I think it was wrong for him to tell his class and the young woman in essence, "Don't even bother trying."

I think it would have been more helpful if he had said, "My opinion is that there is nothing we can do because of x, y, and z. But since you feel strongly about trying to help these people, you shouldn't take my word for it. But you do need to educate yourself about where the money/food is going and whether it will actually help the people you are trying to help. And if it's not going to help, you should try to research organizations that are perhaps doing something more effective or you should brainstorm other things that could be done."

I got the definite the impression that he was just trying to tear down this young girl and the "P.C. mentality" at his school, rather than actually help her or her classmates become more effective critical thinkers.

Anonymous said...

OK, TangoMan (over on my thread) thinks I am jumping down Darren's throat unfairly and apparently I missed the discussion over at Joanne Jacobs' link.

I recognize that I am just reading between the lines and that the young girl's personality may have made a "teaching moment" very difficult. I do still have the impression that you simply told the students that she was wrong, rather than encourage any kind of back and forth on the subject. And I will give you a pass on the "bubbly" handwriting thing -- as someone who went throught a rather regrettable bubbly handwriting phase, I am sensitive about that.

Darren said...


I'll say it again. I told my students why I didn't think this was such a hot idea, but if they wanted to have a burrito for lunch that day then go ahead. They just shouldn't be under any belief that they're helping anyone.

The girl organizing the venture sought me out (she's not one of my students) and attacked. To be honest, given her hysterics, I thought I handled myself fairly well.

As for your comment about sexism, oh please. If you don't know what I mean by "bubbly" writing, and if you can't tell a teenage girl's writing from a teenage boy's, pity for you. It's acceptable to notice differences in the sexes without being a sexist. Sexism denotes some negative which my mere observation didn't exhibit--except perhaps to a feminist, who sees any problem possible as a male/female power issue?

See how easy it is to make these kinds of value judgements? I recommend we keep from making them in the future.

Anonymous said...

The girl organizing the venture sought me out (she's not one of my students) and attacked.

So what exactly happened? Did she come at you with pink fuzzy handcuffs and a gleam in her eye or leave you a threatening note written in bubbly letters?

She is 15. You are older (but not middle aged, apparently). You are the one who is supposed to keep your cool in this situation. If you expect kudos for that, think again.

I too detect contempt for this person in your writing. Whether it is based out of sexism, cynicism or some other foible I hesitate to guess. But let me tell you a secret.

Almost all of your students are less informed than you.

That is why you are the teacher and they are the students. You are framing this as a match between equals but you are not equals. You are supposed to be an example to this person. Passive aggressively undercutting her efforts to make a difference in the world, however small and insignificant that difference might be, is cheap and childish.

Darren - I respect your efforts as a teacher, and I think you should be able to express your point of view. But you crossed the line here. There's no glory in winning a debate against someone who is so clearly not your equal - someone who you are supposed to help and teach. Instead you took the opportunity to tear her down, just to prove how smart you are. Shame on you.

Darren said...

I seek no glory here. I merely related a story. What glee is there to feel here, where an underinformed girl will try to fleece other students to satisfy her own "I'm going to save the world" beliefs?

No, no glory here. Just frustration.

I still don't understand how voicing my opinion in this area is passive aggressive, but whatever.

Anonymous said...

You've obviously missed the point, Darren. It's not whether or not what she's doing will actually help anyone. In holding the sale she is showing "I care" and exhibiting herslef as a wonderful, caring human being.

By the way, I didn't know there was oil in Somalia but apparently there must be.

Now when I was a teacher and some student would say that "war never solves anything," I'd regard it as a teachable moment and demonstrate why that was one proposition that was demonstrably untrue.

Anonymous said...

It amuses me slightly that some commenters seem to expect total egalitarianism from Darren. We are human beings coming from all walks of life and varying political persuasions. To expect impartiality is not merely unrealistic but impossible. It is also unhealthy to developing minds.

Darren is doing what he can to point out alternative ways of thinking in an environment he perceives (true or not) to be lacking in such. If all he is doing is stating that view (and the details of the story as posted suggest this, regardless of tone) and allowing his students to choose for themselves, how does that harm anyone? The student remains free to make up his or her mind. Impartiality does not aid a student who is learning how to think. Rather, impartiality is useful to those who already know how to think. Having one's ideas and beliefs challenged by someone who believes differently will lead to an increase in critical thinking.

Is it also improper for a teacher to be passionate about a topic near and dear to his heart? Do adults who differ in opinion always debate in calm, measured tones? Watch any of the heated debates in either house of Congress and you'll see arguments that would be right at home on any schoolyard. There's nothing wrong with knowing more facts than a student, and it is healthy for a student who has made assumptions with few or no facts to be apprised of those facts. Again, this boils down to having one's ideas and beliefs challenged, and that is healthy. The student responded poorly. Instead of researching the subject and rethinking her argument, for or against, she chose instead to be hurt and offended. That was her chosen response, albeit one not uncommon for children. And, like many children have been groomed into doing, she escalated the situation. She couldn't make Darren change his mind, so she tried to have him silenced by making an appeal to the school administration.

You tell me how that helps any of the students in that school learn critical thinking. They're learning the arts of whining and lobbying. A crying shame, that.

Good luck in the future Darren.

Darren said...

New link to Joanne's post: