And then there’s Teach for America, which reformers love. As I said in the book, you’re not really ready to teach when you have five weeks of training. It’s a truism that people who are in their first year of teaching need help. They’re the weakest teachers, because they’ve never taught before. It’s not their fault; they need training, they need preparation, and they need support. Our government is treating Teach for America like it’s the answer to some problem. And it’s not the answer to any problem that I can think of except, “What can I put on my résumé?”
There is this fantasy that going to a privately managed school would lead to higher test scores, and higher test scores would lead to the end of poverty. All of that would be just great—except none of it is true. I mean, it’s a fact that every test that’s given anywhere in the world shows that family income is a decisive factor: the kids who come from affluent families are at the top, and the kids who come from poverty are at the bottom. That’s simply a fact; it’s not an opinion. It’s true on international tests, it’s true on state tests. You name the test—the ACT, the SAT—poverty is decisive.
For years, members of the religious right have redrawn science standards to make way for natural creationism in biology class. Now, with the passage of Celebrate Freedom Week, they make way for historical creationism in social studies. A civics teacher selectively emphasizing, say, Judeo-Christian threads of American history isn’t perfectly parallel to a science teacher presenting “intelligent design” as alternative to evolution. History, though we hope it is rooted in fact, is the province of interpretation; biology is data-reliant and less vulnerable to human beliefs. But the trouble with Celebrate Freedom Week’s religious accent isn’t open acknowledgment of the theological influence on America’s framing. It’s the agenda of those behind the legislation to erode the separation of church and state.
Feature image by David Goldes, Small Jacobs Ladder on Lined Paper, 2013. Courtesy Yossi Milo Gallery.
A sustained engagement with the world, a sense of how it was and how it ought to be, and what has been lost, is imperative to good writing—I just don’t know how you can be a serious writer without it.
But I don’t think this makes it easy to settle the question of how individual moral values can be affirmed in such a dialogical and ironic art form as the novel—a form where all convictions, no matter how impeccable, ought to be contested. That’s why I am wondering if it’s better to get the beliefs and convictions out in the seven-hundred-word Op-Ed, and then use the broader imaginative space of the novel to challenge them!
Where’s The Rage?, Kamila Shamsie in conversation with Pankaj Mishra - Guernica / A Magazine of Art & Politics
There are some writers who want to leave politics out of their novels. I don’t.
Mystery Is All There Is, Michael E. Halmshaw interviews Nadeem Aslam - Guernica / A Magazine of Art & Politics
Rosalynn was born in the house next door to Jimmy Carter, and he’s going to be ninety in October, so they’ve known each other almost a century. They know each other as well as any two people can. Everybody who ever worked with Carter knew she was his closest advisor, and that was true at Camp David. She’s the one who proposed it. There wouldn’t have been a summit at Camp David if Rosalynn hadn’t put it on the table. So she’s an unacknowledged piece of the peace process.
I am the same age as Israel. I’m sixty-six. I grew up in the American South, the segregated South. Now we have a black man who is president. It was an age of apartheid, and now that’s over. It was an age of two superpowers frozen in a cold war, and now that’s resolved. So history marches on, except for this conflict, which seems to have a claim on being eternal. And it doesn’t merit that. These are 10 million people, the population of LA County, and look at all the trouble that has spilled out to the rest of the world because they can’t get their act together. I do have a feeling of urgency, and to some extent, desperation, that this problem is steering into a place where it could make what’s happened so far look benign.
I can always redirect attention to the fact that I’m white, or to the fact that my black daughter’s mother is. A clerk once told my daughter to leave a store because she was loitering. I was nearby, looking at towels. “Is there a problem?” I countered. “I’m her mother.” Even when I was living in the country where people lived less diversely, I had clear advantages, a stable job, advanced training in rhetoric I find useful every time I object. But I think of people who can’t immediately say to the officer or clerk: hey, I’m white here. And how quaint I sound, a white woman who understands racism at last, selfishly, for her daughter’s sake. Yet I don’t understand. I understand only that I used to be clueless: the sense of ease in day-to-day interactions I once took for granted. I’m also not living with ancestral history as trauma: enslavement, violence, segregation. I’m touchy because I’m protecting my daughter. I don’t have an ocean of grief hundreds of years old.
Their camouflage is military-issue, and not even patterned in a way that would provide any tactical advantage beyond intimidation. They’re driving vehicles designed to endure anti-tank mines. There is no possible anti-tank mine threat in Ferguson. Those weapons are in many instances newer and better than the ones used by active-duty Army units. To me, the Ferguson PD doesn’t look like the police. It doesn’t even look like the military. It looks like Blackwater, kitted up in expensive gear, ready to deal death with impunity. It looks like amateur hour, except the amateurs have live ammunition.
The Ferguson PD have decided to treat protesting citizens as an enemy formation, which they are not. I can’t help but think about my battalion commander in Afghanistan. We were an occupying military force in a foreign country with an active insurgency. There were regular bomb detonations in our province, many of which were revenge attacks against Afghans who collaborated with the Karzai government. The enemy didn’t wear a uniform. We didn’t speak their language. And yet, we had leaders who made it a point to engage with the civilian population as human beings, the kind of leaders that the Ferguson police department does not have. There is no language barrier in Ferguson, nor is there an insurgency or an occupation. This is neither Afghanistan nor Iraq. This is not a war zone. This is not Gezi Park or Tahrir Square. This is America, though you wouldn’t know it.
There was this very deliberate move to just overlay an American reality in Iraq. I’ve never actually seen the map, but apparently Americans thought the names of places were just too complicated so they got decent maps of Baghdad and just renamed everything with familiar names. This neighborhood would be Hollywood, that neighborhood would be Manhattan, and that one’s Madison, you’re going to drive down Oak and take a left on Main Street. That’s all fine if everyone was reading off the same map. But then they would have to deal with the translators, and the translators at first were not allowed to see the map because the maps were classified. So the Americans would say, “Right now we’re going to ‘Dallas,’ what’s the best way to get to Dallas from here? Should we take Main Street or Roosevelt Avenue?” And the translators would look at them bewildered!
So finally the translators are brought into the system and they learn how to use the names—they won’t say Khark, they’ll say Manhattan. That’s so they can talk to the Americans. But then the translators are at a checkpoint, and they’re told to explain to pedestrians: “You need to do a U-turn, turn left, and head over to Dallas.” The Americans would be yelling this at pedestrians and then insisting that the translators had to translate. So there are literally two maps these guys would have to deal with and they would have to learn and translate between these maps. That for me is a great metaphor for the kind of project that we’re talking about. In the Green Zone you have your radio, you have your food, you have your own electricity, your own toilets. Everything is a sealed American reality overlaid on top of an infrastructure that is crumbling.