Tag Archives: peace

The Necessity of Maladjustment

My shoulder grew progressively numb as my friend, convinced that everyone who claimed to be a pacifist had a breaking point, kept hitting it over and over. His face began to contort, and through gritted teeth he hissed, “I’m going to make you hit me.” But I didn’t hit back, and eventually he walked away in disgust. I’ve always wondered what he took away from the incident. Me, I took pride in having successfully maintained my principles of non-violence, though as it turned out I couldn’t have moved my arm if I had wanted, and it hung uselessly at my side for at least five minutes as I walked to my next class and took my seat.

Several years beforehand, when I was in eighth grade, I first read Daybreak by Joan Baez. In a series of poems, dreams, vignettes, and essays, she explored her own pacifism and the principles by which she unflinchingly led her own life. It was one of the most influential books of my childhood.

As I grew in adulthood, though, I couldn’t help but think that it wasn’t always as simple as Ms. Baez made it out to be. One evening, not long after I began teaching here, we invited Andrea LaSonde Anastos, then co-minister of First Church in Deerfield with her husband George, to talk about her life and work. Among other subjects, she touched on her own pacifism, inspiring a question from one of the students as to whether she could ever conceive of a situation where she might choose to use violence. She said before she had children, she would have said absolutely not, but that she now realized that if someone went after her kids and she had the chance, she wasn’t sure but what she would take them out without hesitation. Oddly, I was comforted by her admission. I believed (and still do) there was a big difference between personally suffering for one’s principles and watching others suffer, perhaps even die, for the same reason, and I myself wasn’t sure what I would do in the same situation. She made it safe for me to feel that ambivalence.

One month ago today, a gunman broke into Sandy Hook Elementary School, and you know the rest. This country has a history of mass killings, and so often the initial shock and outcry subsides after a few days or maybe weeks and nothing ever changes. But there is some evidence that things may be different this time. Here at Stoneleigh-Burnham, our Student Council has written all students “[inviting] you all to wear GREEN and WHITE to commemorate the one-month anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, CT.” (Claire L.) No doubt, we will be just one of countless schools doing so.

And this doesn’t even take into account the many individual actions private citizens may be taking, such as writing their Representative or Senators, or engaging people in conversations both face to face and through social media. In a country far too often divided along partisan lines, I feel like I’ve seen more sincere effort to reach across those lines and find common ground than with any other issue in months if not years.

As many people are saying, this is going to be a marathon and not a sprint. Meanwhile, according to the Children’s Defense Fund, an average of eight children die each day due to gunfire. That’s 56 kids each week, and nearly 250 since Sandy Hook. This lends a certain sense of urgency to the marathon.

Martin Luther King, Jr. has written, “There are some things within our social order to which I am proud to be maladjusted and to which I call upon you to be maladjusted. I never intend to adjust myself to segregation and discrimination. I never intend to adjust myself to mob rule. I never intend to adjust myself to the tragic effects of the methods of physical violence and to tragic militarism. I call upon you to be maladjusted to such things.” (King)

I hold out hope that our country has finally become permanently maladjusted to events like Sandy Hook. I hold out that hope not only because I see Dr. King’s ideals in my students but also because I know so many people across the political spectrum who have been deeply moved by Sandy Hook and who sincerely want to leave a better world to our children. It will not happen on its own and it will not be easy. But the alternative is simply unthinkable.

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Filed under On Education, On Parenting, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School

“Read if you are so inclined”

The subject header, “Read if you are so inclined,” telegraphed that the student who had sent this “All School” email had something important on her mind. She wrote, “Below is a link to a New York Times article. I believe that is important to keep track of what happens outside of our SBS community, and this article in particular moved me beyond words. Reading it I found myself analyzing my role as a student and as a woman growing up in western society.” She was referring to an article by Declan Walsh about the Taliban attack on Malala Yousafzai, a 14-year-old Pakistani activist who had won her country’s peace prize a year ago for her advocacy of girls’ education. According to the article, the Taliban put her on an assassination list last spring for “openly propagating [Western Culture],” calling her human rights campaigning an “obscenity” and vowing to return and finish the job if she survives. (Walsh) As I write, reports are mixed, some stating she will be okay and that the bullet did not pass through her brain, others stating that she will need to be flown out of the country to receive complicated surgery if she is to live.

Assuming most of us here agree that the attempted assassination of a 14-year-old girl for affirming her gender’s right to education is the true obscenity, what can we do besides raise our voices in what feels like a fairly futile protest? The student who shared this article with the school wrote of “analyzing [her] role as a student and as a woman growing up in western society” and of course Stoneleigh-Burnham’s mission is fundamentally to empower girls to develop and use their voices and be their own best selves in a global community. That is, of course, exactly the mission of Ms. Yousafzai as well. Students here are encouraged by a larger community of adults including faculty, staff, parents, and alumnae. Those who object to what we are doing mostly leave us alone, perhaps writing an occasional article decrying single-gender education for perpetuating stereotypes despite research to the contrary. Ms. Yousafzai has also found encouragement, from her parents, from her government, from friends, from progressives throughout her country. But those who object aren’t just writing articles; they have sworn to bring about her death, and have come close to doing so.

It seems incomprehensible, all the more so because research is clear that educating girls is one of the surest ways to bring about a peaceful and more humane society, and supporting women one of the surest ways to elevate everyone. Organizations such as Women to Women International (supporting survivors of war), Kiva (a microloan service which lends to men as well) and the Half the Sky Movement (inspired by the book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn) are doing important, amazing, positive work to support women and girls. Two years ago, we welcomed Sally and Don Goodrich to the school to talk about the Peter M. Goodrich Memorial Foundation, established following their son’s death in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and the work they had done building a girls school in Afghanistan.

With all this good work going on, though, and living as we do in a comfortable and safe world devoted to the feminist ideal that all people should be treated equally regardless of gender, here in the so-called “Happy Valley,” it’s easy to lose sight of the larger context. The Women Under Seige Project, originated by Gloria Steinem, works to highlight that very context, spreading the word through everything from blogging to tweeting to facebooking to creating a live crowdmap of sexualized violence in Syria.

On October 4, Women Under Seige tweeted “#Gender is the fundamental construct for how a society understands difference,” linking to the blog posting “Why everyday gender inequality could lead to our next war.” Given this truth, promoting a deeper, broader, more thorough understanding of gender becomes necessary to understanding difference and, eventually, moving past stereotypes to truly allow people to be their own true selves. Today’s attack on Malala Yousafzai is a stark reminder of that necessity, and a chance to recommit to the mission.

– Bill Ivey, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School Dean

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Filed under Gender, On Education, The Faculty Perspective, Uniquely Stoneleigh-Burnham School