This week seems to be my week to have encounters with nature. First, it was the unseen but very much present deer. Now today it was a squirrel.
Make that a squirrel and a hawk.
I was teaching my 11 a.m. section. The classroom we are in is on the second floor, in a building that recently had new windows inserted. So, now we have a lovely unobstructed view of the great outdoors.
I had the students in groups doing work--smaller groups are so much more productive and conducive to all students entering into the conversation. Suddenly, the group nearest the window began looking out the window and animatedly making comments. Finally, I said--OK, what is going on?
Look, they said--there's a hawk that has caught a squirrel. So, I looked out--and right there was a large hawk sitting astride a still struggling squirrel. What a fascinating display of hunter and hunted, of powerful and powerless. The hawk had its talons positioned right over the squirrel's throat and conveyed an air of absolute unconcern for the squirming rodent under its claws. The squirrel struggled, then slowly moved less and less, until it stopped altogether.
By this time, I had persuaded students to go back to the discussion at hand. For one second, I glanced out the window just in time to see the hawk soaring into the air, its cargo in tow. The squirrel's tail dangled like a forlorn surrender flag.
A small death on campus.
What came next in our class discussion rivets me. Some of the students who had gotten up to look out the window expressed great sorrow at the poor squirrel. I must confess the divide of sympathy tended to fall along gender lines--the girls were more sympathetic, while the boys thought it was "cool" to see a squirrel die. The girls were rooting for the squirrel and the boys were cheering on the hawk.
Our current class discussion focuses on the one section of the reader we use--we are working on a chapter all about entertainment, including how news has morphed into entertainment. I asked this question:
"Most Americans get their news through television rather than through print. What do you think this shift has meant to our level of understanding of the world?"
One student who moments before was bemoaning the poor squirrel's fate opined that we shouldn't see images of the war in Iraq, because that "might turn people against the war." She firmly stated that the soldiers are over there fighting for us, and if we saw what they had to do, we would oppose the war.
I challenged her a bit--it was not time to debate her (that comes next semester when the course focuses on argument). What I said was since images have such power, we rob ourselves if we don't see these images, because the Arab world certainly sees them. Many of the images of injured or dead Iraqis are shown on Al Jazeera as standard fare.
How can a young woman who was so sympathetic to a squirrel, to the point that she was saying--let's go help it--be so unsympathetic to the Iraqi people? I know part of the answer is that she has bought the great lie that the "soldiers are over there to protect us and our way of life."
A small death on campus, indeed.