#149: Unspeakable

Night

Unspeakable

I’m trying to find words
to describe how I feel
when, during a reading
from Elie Wiesel’s Night,
I look up and see students
looking at their phones.
One student, in particular,
looks at me, and without irony,
without hesitation, and without,
I would say, consciousness,
says, as if it were a legitimate
explanation, that she was looking
at the new emoji images
now available to her for instant
texting gratification.
In moments like these,
it is hard for me not to simply
scream bloody murder;
it is impossible for me
to be magnanimous,
or tolerant, forgiving,
impossible not
to single out a move like this
for special public humiliation.
And so I say,
Really?
This is more important
in this moment
than the extermination
of 6 millions Jews in
Nazi concentration camps?
–to which, of course, she
cannot respond and we
move on as if it never happened
and she moves on as if it never
happened and continues to be
distracted by minutia and incapable
of attending with any seriousness
to human suffering.
These are the soul crushing
moments in a teacher’s life,
when the material seems
personally so monumental,
so absolutely engrossing in
its unspeakable horror,
and real, and true, and relevant, too,
while all around the world in the 21st
century people continue to suffer and die
in the wake of oppression and hatred,
that one is rendered mute, impotent
in the face of indifference and ignorance,
grieving and furious at this invasion
into our lives of these technological bobbles
whose sole purpose seems to be the
prevention of thought and absence of mind.
I have to remind myself
that she was one kid–and taken with
the two or three other boys I’ve caught
in the same unit of study playing
Clash of Clans, she is in a tiny minority
careless and thoughtless in the face
of the Holocaust. Conscientiousness,
though, prevents me from dismissing it,
from letting it go, keeps me going
over and over the scene, at first,
obsessively in counter productive circles,
until finally, it becomes a simple commitment:
No one, no one gets off the hook.
Everyone puts down their phones, must look.

1 Comment

Filed under Poetry, Teaching

One response to “#149: Unspeakable

  1. Yes, that must’ve been just awful for you…and I feel for you, trying to figure out how to respond beyond your own incredulity. I taught 4th and 5th graders, and at that stage of life, the kids still really care what you think of them. Some of them hung on every word I said, which made it all so much easier. I’m not sure how I would handle the high schoolers; they have much harder shells to crack. Sigh. You can lead a horse to water…you can lead a teenage girl to the gateway of learning…you can’t make the horse drink. You can’t make the girl step through the gateway. But yes, you CAN ask them to put down their phones.

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