My Turn: Where do we draw the line?

Whitney Foehl

I’ve been a secondary teacher for many years now. Teaching students how to question and think at higher levels is always a priority, no matter what standards or research you are following. In the 15 years I’ve been in education, I’ve never heard anyone say, “We need to teach students not to question, not to be critical thinkers.”

So why then, when I watch the various news outlets available to me, I continually hear the same talking points, repeated over and over, with no higher-level questions challenging them? Our national dialogue is currently focused on Syria. By educational standards, the conversation is so narrow and literal it would be categorized as low-level thinking. It is very repetitive, as if drilling it into the minds of Americans the way the multiplication tables are drilled into fourth graders.

Most of it goes like this: “We cannot tolerate nations who use chemical weapons on their own people. We have drawn a red line, or a line in the sand, or some other kind of line that we say Assad has now crossed, and we just won’t tolerate it. We can’t tolerate it, we shouldn’t tolerate it, end of story.”

Well, I for one am glad that we have established some sort of toleration litmus test. I was getting worried after we tolerated half a million citizens killed in Rwanda. Those citizens were killed with machetes so “the line” wasn’t really crossed.

I was also worried when genocide broke out in Sudan, and we somehow tolerated that, but again, chemical weapons weren’t used there so our inaction was justified, right? I guess the litmus test says we can tolerate the mass, brutal raping and murdering of women, as long as there is no sarin gas involved. That makes me feel better. Okay, maybe my sarcasm is a bit dark here. The examples are many.

What are we willing to tolerate on the home front? Where do we draw the line of human suffering in America? The Philadelphia school district, facing an outrageous budget problem, has to cut arts and athletes, close schools and cut teachers (300 since June), increasing class size and continuing to “do more with less” at the expense of the next generation. We are so quick to jump to action to keep Syria in line, but what do we do about the horrible state of America’s public school system?

Philadelphia is, of course, just one example. We stand by and watch the entire city of Detroit go bankrupt, lay to waste, and what do we say? Oh well, glad it isn’t my city. We tolerate things like fracking, where toxic chemicals are injected into our land and leaked into our water and ecosystems. These just happen to be the three news stories I’ve seen specials on lately. None of it is tolerable in my mind, yet there is no call for direct and immediate action. There is no continual stream of media coverage and outrage.

We stand by and watch as thousands lose their jobs, their homes, their chance for a good education. I’m thinking we tolerate all sorts of human suffering, both abroad and at home. Red lines are crossed everyday, all the time, and often by us. Somehow, when it comes to Syria, we should be ready to drop millions on the claim that they “crossed the line.”

The arguments that call for direct and immediate action in Syria are far too simplistic and constricted. It is a complex and messy situation that requires a bit more critical thinking and a few higher-level questions thrown in for good measure.

Whitney Foehl is a Truckee resident.

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