Sometimes I feel no one is listening to me. I talk and I write and I try to get to the heart of very important things, but it seems that a great many people either tune me out or mentally pat me on the head as if to say, “There, there now, dear, it’s not good for your blood pressure to get so worked up.”
On good days, when the medication is working the way it’s supposed to, I realize that I’m not alone and most people prefer not to hear unpleasant things (unless the unpleasantness is someone like Brittney Spears singing) and they would rather just pretend that everything is okay. I wish I had the ability to do that. It would make my life — and Mama’s and Budge’s — a lot easier. Forty six years ago this week, people weren’t listening in South Vietnam either.
Right here and now, let me be clear. This is not a post or discussion of the Vietnam War. My kind and fun-loving father fought and died in Vietnam and sent a similar looking stranger that no one in the family, including Mama, knew back to his home in his place. I lost the father I never got to know to the Vietnam War — that is all I know of that war and I’m quite passionate about that fact. If you don’t believe me, feel free to contact the Clemson professor who told the class I sat in my sophomore year that Vietnam was fought by a bunch of drugged out baby killers. I did manage to graduate once the charges were dropped though. So, spout politics around me all you want, but leave the Southeast Asian War Games out of it.
But I digress.
Forty six years ago. South Vietnam. The president of that vile little nation was a vile little man named Ngô Đình Diệm. Under his administration, religious freedom was quashed throughout the land. The Mahayana Buddhist monks of the country were especially hard hit and oppressed. Their temples were being invaded and destroyed in some cases and many of the monks themselves were jailed or, in some cases, murdered outright. Despite the protests from within and without the country, Diem turned a deaf ear to the monks’ pleas. He simply refused to listen to them. Unfortunately, lots of the powerful people in his nation and the world at large didn’t listen either. It wasn’t their concern, they weren’t Mahayana Buddhists, it didn’t affect them, they weren’t going to worry about it.
Then along came fifty-six year old monk Lâm Văn Tức. He didn’t feel anyone was listening to him either and it broke his heart and moved him to take action to ensure people would listen. At rush hour on June 11, 1963, he, accompanied by a handful of his monastic brothers and pupils, walked out into the busiest intersection in Saigon, seated himself in the lotus position, poured five gallons of gasoline over his head and body, lit himself on fire, folded his hands in his lap, and burned to death. Perhaps you’ve seen the Pulitzer Prize winning picture taken by Malcolm Browne?
The administration didn’t immediately cease the crackdowns, but the monk’s actions had inflamed the population against Diem. Before the end of 1963, he would be dead by an an assassin’s bullet and his government replaced by a military coup. The oppression ended then. It took drastic measures, but someone finally started listening.
Now, I don’t think anyone who reads this should self-immolate. I am using the extreme to draw attention to the mundane. Having said that, do you think anyone is listening to teachers, librarians, parents, police officers, firemen . . .?
The list could go on. Our professions are attacked and our motives vilified. We make too much money and the students we turn out are inferior. We are saddled with laws and policies and rules that we had no voice in making and the people who made them will take no hand in bringing to fruition. Is anyone listening?
I have a very short time left that y’all will listen to me. That’s why I’m writing these hard to take posts now instead of usual summer fare. I’m not employed anymore . . . it seems increasingly unlikely that I will be a librarian or an educator of any sort come start of school next year. For good or bad, it seems principals don’t want “my type” in their schools. That means I’ll begin losing credibility with others who are educators because I won’t be “in the trenches” anymore, so I’m trying to fire you up now and leave you with a battle call that lasts after your memory of me fades.
Summer is here. Rest, recuperate. Most of all, though, plan your battles for the upcoming year. You are usually your students’ best advocates. You often know them better than their parents. Do not allow them to squander their potential, but more than that, do not allow the godforsaken system of testing and “rote”ssiere learning to victimize their spirits. Every brawl I’ve gotten into with the powers that be has been over my doing what I thought best for children. Whatever I’ve done, for nearly fifteen years now, I’ve done for my kids. When no one would listen, I made them hear, but that kind of passion is not without its price as Don Quixote and I have discovered.
I know lots of you may not feel like it, but I won’t be there to carry on the fight . . . so don’t let the fight die down.
Please. For me. For them.
Now, wash your feet, y’all, preferably in a nice cool ocean surf on some beach . . . somewhere.
Till next time. Love y’all.