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A Restraint On The Patriotism, Please

Jose Vilson Jose 5 Comments

I stood in my classroom on Monday morning, worn out from awaiting President Barack Obama’s announcement, waiting for the Pledge of Allegiance. Growing impatient with the pledge, I began to twirl the chalk in my hand while my students also reluctantly stood there. Anxious about next week’s math test, I scribbled the Objective and Do Now on the board when a student looked at me in her bubbly naivete and asked, “Mr. Vilson, what happened yesterday?”

“Not sure what you mean.”

“Well, like, something happened last night with something, like, really big.”

“You mean, Osama bin Laden?”

“Yeah, something like that. What was the big deal?”

I had to forgive her immediately. When the really big deal happened, she was only 3-4 years old, still piecing together the world presented to her. She couldn’t understand how tons of steel and cement decimated into rubble and ash would demolish the lives of thousands. She was only four years old when our country’s leader at the time launched us into a crash course towards a new-age imperialism by way of warring against ideas. She was just getting her own memories when that leader also told the rest of the country that their mission was completed when it was far from accomplished. By the time she had any understanding of what a president might do and how that person affects her life, that president wasn’t really concerned with the whereabouts of the purported mastermind of the really big deal.

Naturally, I had every intention of infusing the facts with my own opinion, knowing that this was a prime opportunity to get her and everyone else within earshot to question the things she was learning how to trust, as we all had to learn how to trust. Patriotism is implicitly an exercise in trust. Even when we don’t believe everything our government says, those with any inkling of patriotism or nationalism believe that the government and its people have the best of intentions when they run the country. For anyone who took a deeper look at the story of Osama bin Laden’s death, one has to question many aspects of what happened, but even those who do still trust that Barack Obama and Co. did the best job possible.

Unfortunately for that crowd, I dissent there. 9/11 happened. Osama bin Laden’s death happened. People died needlessly. People continue to die needlessly. Young boys are playing grown men’s games for them overseas. Everything else leaves me questioning everything else. So instead of celebrating on the streets, I tried to get some rest for the the next day.

All morning, it left a bitter taste in my mouth that logic has given way to whatever our government has said about Osama’s passing. Yet, when I looked at the students’ face, I didn’t give much away, so I said,

“Well, Osama bin Laden was the person the government holds responsible for making the plans for the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center.”

She giggled, “Oh yeah! Well, I don’t remember much about that.”

“Yeah, you were so young then, like three or four right?”

“Yeah.”

“Right.”

Jose, who still meditates for peace …

About Jose Vilson

José Luis Vilson is a math educator, blogger, speaker, and activist. For more of my writing, buy my book This Is Not A Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class, and Education, on sale now.

Comments 5

  1. Tyrone M.

    Wait. Someone unfollowed you for this post? This is spot on. When I saw folks celebrating on the streets, I remembered the same reaction by folks in the middle east after the towers came down. I remembered how angry I was. And I started to think, “If a bin Laden follower saw how folks were acting outside of the White House and in Times Square, would they be as upset and planning retribution?”

    I think they definitely would. And did.

  2. Kat

    Yes, yes and yes one more time. You articulated what I could not quite say to my 10 year old who was trying to figure out what that was all about. That being me, shaking my head while passing a Chic Fil A, here in the good ole’ south (NC). I saw a crayon-colored sign posted outside the restaurant that said, “we finally got him, Osama’s Dead”. It was photo worthy or not. I would say that it is only fitting; a crayon-colored patriotism that evades something deeper.

  3. Pingback: One example of responsible exercise of influence. | forks and hope, smiles and soap

  4. Daniel Scibienski

    A group of my 4th and 5th graders asked me similar questions. The oldest in the group was about two and half years old on 9/11/2001, the youngest hadn’t been born.

    The group was completely intrigued to understand why some person unknown to them was such a big news and conversation item. I tried to explain the significance of Osama Bin Laden and give them some background on the related political events.

    So many questions arose from that conversation. Two of my favorites were:

    Will the person who killed Osama Bin Laden go to jail? I loved this question because no adult would ask it.

    The other question was: What happened to the people who were flying the planes that crashed into the World Trade Center? I loved this one too because it has now become a normalized (albeit rare and extreme) action to hear about people sacrificing their own lives for a cause or philosophy.

    I tried to answer both questions as well as I could. I know the students understood my words but on their faces, instead of recognition and understanding, were puzzled looks. Those puzzled looks meant that something didn’t quite fit, something was wrong with the explanation.

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