Thursday, November 15, 2007

A Small Death on Campus

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.


Pam said...

Aside from buying the lie, there's the possibility of a narrow mindedness that doesn't allow her to see the Iraqi people as families; fathers, mothers and children sharing their days. She only sees an enemy.

I know a couple of people like that, their vision so clouded with prejudice and ignorance that they aren't willing to see a different or bigger picture.

Anvilcloud said...

Some people don't want to know the truth.

We had a hawk take down a bird in our feeder a few years ago. It was thrilling in a way although I feel badly for the victim too. There are those who opine that your squirrel would have died in an adrenaline induced ecstasy. I really don't know if that's true.

Mary said...

She never gives the Iraqi war much thought because it's so removed from what she knows.

She saw the poor squirrel, though.

I saw a hawk carry away a mourning dove once. It was breathtaking and very heartbreaking for me.

Anonymous said...

what an interesting event to happen during your class! I can feel for those who felt sorry for the squirrel but the hawk needs to feed also! It is part of the process and would they fell sorry for the worm who is eaten by the robin?

KGMom said...

Pam, AC and Mary--you make excellent points as to why the student was not tuned in to the suffering of Iraqis.
Mon@rch--true, the hawk has to eat. Mostly we don't like to see it.
For me, I saw the hawk and squirrel as an analoghy for the US and Iraq. We are the powerful sweeping in, sinking our talons into poorer countries and peoples. They struggle, and we keep squeezing the life out of them. A bit melodramatic--yes.

Climenheise said...

A problem with the analogy (which you know me well enough to say that it resonates with me) is that the hawk gained significant nourishment from the squirrel. We gain little nourishment from Iraq: rather the invasion has bled us significantly.

This fact is one of the basic reasons that I take Bush at his word for why he led us into Iraq. He was (I believe) disastrously wrong. He was also far too ready to be persuaded that we had to fight. (That is an occasional American failing.) But I believe that he was telling us in general what he believed to be true.

I was our chapel speaker last Wednesday at Providence, for a service of peace and remembrance just after Remembrance Day. I felt a bit out of place, speaking to a group including a number of American students. I was a CO during Vietnam, and have tried to choose peace as consistently as I can; but it is increasingly difficult in our world to do so. And I at least have sympathy for those who don't make my choice, even though I believe they are still wrong!

KGMom said...

Daryl--you're right in your analysis of the analogy, unless you think of OIL as nourishment for the US, in which case, "carrying off" poor hapless Iraq fits in the analogy!
Oh, that is a very skeptical view, indeed. Frankly, the more information that comes out, the more stunned and ashamed I am of the US in this entire matter.

Ruth said...

We are predators, but have distanced ourselves from the killing. I wonder if your student had chicken this week. War needs propaganda machinery to keep it going and this war has that for sure.