About three weeks ago in one of my classes, we got on the topic of “how the world is now”. Our school has been through a lot in the last not-even-three months. We are having a difficult time putting everything into words much less making real sense with the words we do say.
I tried to explain to my students we adults know that we have absolutely nothing to offer them in terms of support beyond showing up everyday and doing our best that day – and even that is hard for some of us. And, I wanted them to know that, yes, I can tell that the world for them is a very different place than it was for me at their age, “this” isn’t how the world was then.
I thought about when, exactly, that change took place. I was about to say November 2016, but, then I remembered 9/11.
Everything stopped for weeks after 9/11. Just like now. But beyond the shock and the terror and the death, the thing that has lasted is the way that we as a nation compromised our foundational values for a false sense of safety. Whatever ‘they’ said needed to be done to protect ‘us’ from ‘them’, was expedited and put in place without question. I think that’s when ‘we’ stopped really believing this was designed to be a government “by the people”. “For the people” on 9/11 meant just make it go away. Take the horror away. Just make it go. Make this a safe place again. Just do it because we are too traumatized to do it with you. Alas. By the people…
I described it to my students like the movie reel changeover in Fight Club, a film they haven’t seen. “Even a hummingbird couldn’t catch Tyler at work.”
This, I think, is what distresses my students; they don’t have a sense that anything they do matters. Someone or something else is always in control. Whether benevolent or malevolent, it’s not them. They don’t have a sense of agency.
20 years, countless missed opportunities to guide our government toward our priorities, and innumerable warnings of impending doom later, here “we” are, flatfooted.