Friday, May 19, 2006

A Thank You Note to the Children

I am, unlike most Americans, far from convinced that a college education is an absolute necessity for a full and satisfying life on this planet. However, my 12 year old daughter is already talking about college; so like many parents, I'm trying to start saving money now. If she does indeed decide to go to college, I hope it's to a place like the New School here in New York. I want her to learn to feel, think, speak, and act from her own core of truth, and not in mute obeisance to some institution's or putative leader's version of truth.

The New School's credentials in this connection have long been apparent to me, and now they're firmly established to my mind. If you haven't read the story in the Times, here's an excerpt:

Senator John McCain of Arizona received a cantankerous reception during his appearance at the New School commencement Friday, where dozens of faculty members and students turned their backs and raised signs in protest and a distinguished student speaker pointedly mocked him as he sat silently nearby....Some 1,200 students and faculty signed petitions asking the university president, former Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey, to rescind the invitation. Petitioners said McCain's support for the Iraq war and opposition to gay rights and legal abortion do not keep with the prevailing views on campus.

Now I have a bone to pick with some of the verbiage in that Times article, but first I'd like to quote some of the remarks from Jean Sara Rohe, a graduating senior who (unlike Sen. McCain) discarded her prepared speech and addressed the situation:

The senator does not reflect the ideals upon which this university was founded," Rohe proclaimed to loud cheers, with McCain sitting just a few feet away...."He will tell us we are young and too naive to have valid opinions," Rohe said. "I am young and though I don't possess the wisdom that time affords us, I do know that pre-emptive war is dangerous. And I know that despite all the havoc that my country has wrought overseas in my name, Osama bin Laden still has not been found, nor have those weapons of mass destruction."

McCain's response was to thank Rohe for her "Cliff's notes" version of his prior speech (given at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University), and then to launch into a mimeographed version of that very same tirade.

I have a message for you, Mr. McCain: if you are going to thus look down your nose at the youth of this country, I don't want you anywhere near the White House. In fact, I don't want you in Congress; but I can't do anything about that except to appeal to the people of Arizona to reject this kind of lazy and contemptuous arrogance with their voices and their votes.

I also have a message for the Times: Ms. Rohe did not "mock" McCain ("pointedly" or otherwise). She didn't make fun of his looks, his manner, his speech, or his message. She was (again, unlike McCain himself) neither scornful nor contemptuous. What I read of her remarks reveals to me that she took on his record and his known allegiances, and exposed them as marks of grievous error and failed policy. If that is mocking, then I recommend that your editors go back to English class—third or fourth grade level ought to do it.

These kids, to my mind, did the same thing Ray McGovern did in a Rumsfeld press conference; the same thing Americans at the President's recent public appearances have been doing; the same thing that more than two-thirds of the electorate in this country are doing now. They raised their voices against a regime, against a tyrannical coterie, that has suppressed democracy, alienated the world, and wrought untold death and suffering on a nation that had done no violence against America, that posed no threat to our nation.

Therefore, my final message tonight is to the people whose day this occasion was supposed to honor, the graduating seniors of the New School. Thank you. The more the authorities—whether of your own school, the government, or the mass media—tell you to be silent and obedient, the more we will need to hear your voices. Thank you again for letting us hear them today.

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