|Said to me by another English teacher today: “You know how they thought my new shelter dog was part shar-pei, because of all the wrinkles? I think your son is part shar-pei!” Funniest thing I’ve heard all day!
I predict this will be a long week, only because next week is short because of Thanksgiving, and vacations tend to taunt me like that. We’re still plugging away in classes, with some interesting twists I’m going to try to post about this week.
Last week my freshmen history kiddos started a unit on the origins of Islam. Given the extremely small-town nature of this small town, it has been a predictably interesting experience. Common questions include, “Why do they hate us so much?” and “Would I get stoned for kissing my boyfriend?” The pre-AP world history teacher recommended a 2008 British documentary called “Inside the Koran” that we’ve been watching the last three classes. It shows the varying viewpoints within Islam, from the Sunnis to the Shiites and Sufis. We watched segments on the different views of women covering themselves, and how the Qu’ran can be interpreted as a document of peace or of war. The filmmakers interview Muslim laypeople and clerics from all over the Middle East, and examine some of the extremism, including suicide bombings and female genital mutilation. One cleric explained the purposes of what they referred to as “female circumcision”: to paraphrase, Muslim women need to be obedient to their husbands, and sexual desire causes them to go astray like “Western women” who apparently sleep with anything vaguely male on two legs. By removing the ability to feel sexual pleasure, they remove the impulse to sin. The students were unsurprisingly horrified at this perspective, and a bit upset that that was how American women were viewed. It lead to a useful discussion on the dangers of stereotyping, as well as how culture can affect a religion (female genital mutilation predates Islam) as well as religion affecting culture. Obviously this trend is horrifically prevalent, as the New York Times addressed yesterday, and even my most sleepy students engaged in so vivid a discussion topic, accidentally learning about today’s world in the process.
One girl at the beginning of class today said she didn’t like watching this documentary because “it was too mean.” I asked her to expound on what she meant, and she explained that she felt uncomfortable that they talked about genital mutilation and how some women were treated within certain Islamic areas and sects – that that was “too mean.” I explained to them that the film makers intended for their viewers to feel discomfort – it’s obviously not a pleasant subject. I told her that I felt they were old enough to not be shielded anymore from the bad things that happen in the world, and instead perhaps one day they will feel empowered to change it. I didn’t want them to be ignorant Americans more inconvenienced by their iPhone battery dying than by the hurt and hatred and illness of the world.
Another girl raised her hand and reported, “At the beginning of this year, my dad would watch the news and say, ‘I’m scared for this world.’ And I would think, ‘What’s to be scared of?’ Now I understand.”
Not that I’m thrilled to scare my freshmen, but I do believe this new feeling of discomfort is positive in that they are suddenly more aware of their world – and that’s a crucial step in becoming a mature adult someday.