Tuesday, April 19, 2005
( 2:12 PM )
I shared the following quote with my students yesterday and asked them to reflect on it and respond in writing:
"As I stood before the gates I realized that I never want to be as certain about anything as were the people who built this place."
-Rabbi Sheila Peltz, on her visit to Auschwitz
What were the Nazis so sure about? I asked my students. When they began their reign, did anyone question their certainty?
I then shared with them this picture (scroll down). Those white people, their faces twisted in hate and anger, gathering to keep 9 young black children from going to school. They were very certain about why they were there.
What I don't want these 18 year olds or any other American to do is to go through life not questioning when someone is so certain about something. If we are unwilling to explore the possibility that we could be wrong about something, that someone could have a point that we haven't yet heard, that perhaps there are other paths available, then we cannot learn and we cannot grow. Most especially, if you do not question authority and what it demands of you, then you are in danger of becoming a victim to certainty. Questioning and dissent are not wrong and not treasonous. If there had been more questioning, more dissent, how much state-sponsored terror and opppression could have been avoided throughout history?
When questioning authority becomes a crime, we are doomed. That our president, who is supposed to represent all of us, continues to tour the country and appear at specially organized pep rallies where no one who dissents is allowed to hear their president argue his case or to question him and his non-plan for Social Security, is a sign that we are letting things slip. Simply stopping the publication of an uncomfortable terrorism report, or pretending that we are "winning" a war that has been a quagmire from the start, or any number of other things are not policy decisions - they are evidence of certainty over truth and honesty and good policy.
Just some thoughts today. I'm probably thoughtful about it because today I turned 34. I want to be a lifetime learner and never be so certain about anything that I am unwilling to question. And I believe that if I stop questioning, and I do not teach my child to question, and you stop questioning, and if enough people stop questioning, that is the foothold oppression needs.
Certainty isn't worth Auschwitz ... or Little Rock ... or a flawed "war on terrorism." It never can be.