Columbine asked today…

Columbine asked today what kind of person would vote for Bush. What has been strangest for me in this election is that I now know exactly where the vast majority of Bush's votes came from. They came from my students, or people like my students. Utah is about 75% Republican, I believe; I don't know the actual numbers for this election, but I'd guess that about 3/4's of my students voted for Bush. I know why they did it, too. It had nothing to do with big money, or large corporations. It was all about 'morals'.

It makes me so frustrated, sometimes, working on their papers with them. Whether they're writing about the virtues of obedience or the portrayal of women in fairy tales or whether we should allow gene therapy or gun control or abortion or school vouchers...it all comes back to 'morality' for so many of them. And they have no idea that someone could possibly be 'moral', and still disagree with them -- that morality is not necessarily an absolute concept shared by the whole world. They think that those people in the big coastal cities, the ones having sex before marriage, the ones who are being gay and wanting to adopt children anyway, the ones who'd like to regulate guns and the ones who drink coffee -- my students think they're all immoral, and that they *know* they're immoral, and they do the sinful things anyway because they like doing them. It makes me want to bang my head against a wall. I've been tempted to ban the word 'morality' in their papers, just because it is so very hard to get them to think clearly about it. I haven't done that -- but I have banned papers about abortion, because they're just incoherent on the subject. There are certainly intelligent, well-thought-out, coherent anti-abortion positions; I have never seen one in a freshman paper. I've given up on that one.

I try not to actually advocate a position in my classes; it doesn't feel appropriate. But I do play devil's advocate (making it clear that's what I'm doing), and I almost always have to take the liberal position, just because so many of my students are so loudly conservative. And as a result, I get to see the bewilderment on their faces as I make the argument that maybe, just maybe, someone might think that there's nothing at all 'immoral' about drinking coffee. Or about using RU-486. Or about curing Downs' syndrome in their fetus through gene therapy.

I know they're just eighteen. I know. They're not stupid, they're provincial. I tell myself this over and over, and it helps a little. I'm sure the parents aren't quite so ignorant. But still.

It drives me utterly crazy working here sometimes. Kevin managed to avoid it almost entirely, as a math professor, though he did say he was sometimes tempted to spike his hair and color it purple, just so they couldn't so easily assume that as a nice blue-eyed/blond man, he must automatically agree with their opinions. But in my job, I run across their opinions all the time; I can't help it.

I have to believe that my being here helps the problem. That this is the very reason why schools look for diversity in their hiring practices (or one of the reasons). That my being up there as an intelligent colored woman, shocking them a little every day by both my presence and the simple fact that I, their professor, don't automatically agree with their notions, makes a little bit of a difference. I hope so.

I encouraged them to go vote. I knew that Utah was lost anyway, and so I felt no hesitation in encouraging them -- and I think it's good for the country if people vote. But if we'd lived in a swing state, would I have? Should I have? Last year, I had a hundred students in a semester. If I convinced a hundred conservative students to vote in a swing state -- if 20 other professors did the same -- that would be enough to swing the election this year. I don't know what I would have done, if I'd had this kind of class, these students, in a swing state. And that makes me sad.

It's possible to be an intelligent person who thinks critically and still vote for Bush. No question. But most of my students did not come even close to that -- they reacted in a kneejerk way to the catchwords -- "morality", "decency", "family", "children". And I'm afraid that that is typical of far too many of the voters in America's heartland this election. I wish I knew how to get more of these people to think, just for a minute. Maybe my being here helps, even if it does mean I feel like I'm in exile. Maybe if more of those lovely coastal people moved inland, that might make a difference too. It's a lot harder to vote against gay rights when the nice lesbian couple next door is doing such a good job raising their kids. It's harder to blame blacks for crime when your kid breaks his leg falling out of a tree, and black doctor who lives down the block sets the leg for him. That's the only answer I can see right now. And it sure doesn't seem likely. After a year and a half here, I'm aching to get back to someplace sane. I'm desperately hoping that Kevin finds a job in Chicago, or New York, or Boston, or the Bay Area. I'm pretty sure if U of Utah wanted me to become a tenured professor here, and I had an offer from a coastal city, they couldn't pay me enough to take the gig. That's pretty sad too.

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