To Question and To Quest

It seems to me that certainly by the time a person has reached the biblically famous age of three-score-years-and-ten (plus two years beyond that, as I have reached this past week), she (or he) has the right – if she’s been paying attention along the way, reading, writing, thinking, discussing, observing, grappling (in short, doing the requisite homework) – to express her experientially earned point of view.

This is even more than a right: It’s the responsibility of every intelligent, well-meaning elder of every society. Why else, I ask myself, do we live this long if not to help light the path for those born after us?

A dear old friend e-mailed me recently to tell me she enjoys reading my blog posts – all except the politically-themed ones. Why, she implied, must I be so heavy? Isn’t there enough bad news in the world? Why couldn’t I confine my posts to hummingbirds and pussy cats and sun-cooked meals? Why can’t I just be a “pink and fluffy” old lady?

Well, I didn’t get into it with her. I thought, “To each her own.”

But I’m thinking now: I may be retired, but I’m not yet dead. I have a responsibility, as a thinking person and as a communicator, to share my thoughts while I still can. It is my (unpaid) job, my purpose, to question and to quest for as long as I live. This is who I am, and it is my reason for still being.

So, along these lines, here’s another politically-themed post, which will no doubt disappoint my dear old friend:

In my ongoing struggle to understand the mindset of Trump’s most diehard supporters – who vehemently cheer him still, despite his numerous self-inflicted scandals and all of the unsettling political tumult in the news lately – I’m reminded of some of my students when I was an adjunct instructor of English at an open-enrollment community college in northern New Mexico for ten years.

There were always at least one or two in each class; I could depend on it: students who didn’t do their homework reading, couldn’t therefore participate in class discussions based on those readings, sat through class sullenly and slumped with their arms crossed at their chest, and didn’t do at all well on tests.

They would invariably try to argue with me privately after class about their much-lower-than-expected grades, hiding their fears and insecurities behind belligerence:

“How DARE you give me a D! I’m going to lose my financial aid now because of YOU!”

“Grades are not ‘given,’” I’d counter, “they’re earned. I’m sure you would have done a lot better if you’d done the homework reading.”

“But I have two kids and a part-time job! I don’t have TIME for no reading!”

“Then maybe college isn’t for you,” I’d say, to their surprise. “This isn’t high school. High school is behind you. This is higher learning, and it takes work. If you want to be a positive role model for your kids and you hope to one day get a good-paying, full-time job, you’ll have to do the work that’s required to stay in college.

“Look,” I’d go on, if I thought I was getting somewhere, “It’s not my job to tell you what to think, but it is my job to teach you how to learn to think – and you do that by reading. In college – especially in college English classes – reading, writing, and discussing are requirements for learning. This is the purpose of higher learning – to teach critical thinking that will guide you throughout life.”

One memorable student, with prison tats and an ankle bracelet, even tried to bully and intimidate me into giving him a better grade.

“You betta watch out!” he growled at me menacingly.

“Oh, really?” I said, as if impressed. Then I smiled at him.

He didn’t last long.

Today, sadly, I think of Donald Trump as the champion – or patron saint – of students like these. Trump is proof for them and others like them that you can bully your way to the top, you can win through intimidation, and you don’t need to take the time to do your homework reading.

I think of Trump as every college professor’s worst nightmare: the specter of someone who successfully paints liberal arts education as “elitism” and elitism as evil, in his up-is-down and backward-is-forward world. Trump negates every truth we earnest higher-educators ever tried to instill.

College attendance doesn’t automatically make a person better or smarter, to be sure. I know many good, intelligent, and highly educated people who never had the opportunity or wherewithal to go to college but who nonetheless became self-taught through wide-ranging reading, far-ranging travel, and a general sense of intellectual curiosity.

But at the same time, it’s no wonder to me that a large proportion of Trump’s voting demographic is made up of non-college-graduates — people who, alas, never learned the meaning and value of critical thinking.


15 thoughts on “To Question and To Quest”

  1. Hola Bonnie,
    Thank you for keeping it “real” AND “political” in your last two blogs. It is muy importante as we say down here, to stay aware, concerned, and vocal. I think you have been spot-on, and an important ‘wise-woman’ voice. Keep up the excellente work!

    1. Mil gracias, Vanessa, for your kind and encouraging words. Coming from you, a retired distinguished professor, this is high praise, and I’m very grateful. Hope to see you and Ron soon!

  2. “Bonnie is NOT pink–or fluffy!” Michael said, when I read him your blog. I love this piece. What a direct attack on ignorance posturing as importance. Keep thinking and writing, my friend!

  3. You go go Bonnie B…until you can go no more! I don’t do pink and soft and fluffy either! Dolores

  4. Too bad the people who need to read it won’t !
    I am also purple with rage and also an elder who still protest
    Protest marches even in the rain. I love your writing …keep on!!
    By the way — miss you here in Taos .

    1. Thank you, Irene. Barb Scott may be reading this post at the Writers Resist event in Taos next Sunday, so you might want to go and pretend I’m there too. If you go, be sure to wear purple! 🙂

  5. Kudos for keeping your sense of purpose and continuing to comment on current events. About Trump voters, I suspect not so much lack of critical thinking as longing to be heard. Feelings trump thinking very time.

    1. Thank you, Patricia. Yes, I suspect Trump supporters had a number of motivations. I was just focusing on the non-college-graduate segment (assuming that critical thinking is taught at most colleges).

  6. It is particularly easy to be a bully when you start at the top, in terms of wealth. There is no downside to Trump’s bullying, and his lack of attention/interest in what is transpiring have no consequences. This is vastly different from your students who have no upward prospects, at all, if they choose to ignore the work, and attempt to bully for a grade, instead of learning.

    They will only be flipping hamburgers somewhere. And bullying their co-workers until they get fired.

  7. I have little sympathy for those who are “sick of politics.” Think of how people who are scared for their safety, their family, or their very lives feel. Our race, gender, birthplace, or other factors outside our control allow some of us to avoid bigotry, physical assaults, and deportation, but immigrants, people of color, and other minorities don’t get to “opt out” of oppression. Being “sick of politics” is privilege in action.

    If you catch yourself thinking, “I’m sick of everyone complaining about racism,” you’re like a person who hates homelessness because of all the homeless people they’re forced to see on the streets every day. Poor you – how terribly inconvenient!

    As long as ANY ONE of us is at risk, we’re ALL at risk.

    1. Thank you so much for adding your strong voice to this conversation, dear Michael. As a young man, you may not realize the (unspoken) social pressure (esp. in the U.S.) on older women to just “be nice” and sit quietly on the sidelines with our hands folded on our laps. Alas (ha!) many of us believe strongly — as you do — that we MUST stand up and speak up against injustice for as long as we’re alive.

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