Saturday, December 20, 2008

Step on one foot at a time

Early on in my teaching career, when every new choice bit by a student working in English as a Second Language would pop off the page at me and delight me, I knew I had found my home in the teaching profession. One Chinese girl wrote in an essay one time that she had just seen her uncle off “through the San Francisco fog in my eye” as he flew back to Hong Kong, leaving her behind, the treasure of the family, to do them all proud. In another student paper I found, less touching but no less poetic, “the first mile of a long journey begins by stepping on one foot after another.”

I think of that kid from forty years ago and wonder how he’s expressing himself in English now, at age 60. And I wonder if he knows how useful it was for me, not just professionally, but personally, to see that teaching and learning was going to be a two-way process, not a lesson in dictation. He hit me, as it turns out, at a “teaching moment.” For me, I mean, not him. I was ready to meditate on the need to slow down and let things happen at their own pace.

For the past several months, since the passing of the same-sex marriage right in California, its overturn in Prop. 8 and the thousands of blogs, letters and discussions that followed, I’ve been glued to the computer screen. Enjoying the highs (Jerry Brown deciding he could not, in good conscience, do what the law required and support Prop. 8 in court) and wincing at the lows (Barack Obama giving a place of honor to a man who uses his considerable influence to persuade people homosexuality is no different from incest and child molestation), and trying to hang on to my patience as homophobia rages across the United States like a wildfire.

Measuring each step. Do I go to another candlelight parade? Do I send another check? So many individual decisions. Engage here, let this one go…

Here’s a sample of the kind of thing I usually let go by, but this morning, maybe because the sun is out again, I decided to have a go at:

This letter appeared in a New York news and commentary website. I’ve read the same argument countless dozens of times, but this morning I had to write back.

I think gay men or lesbians should be given ALL the rights that heterosexual couples get, but it can not be called 'marriage'. Isnt that a good compromise? I have no problem at all with everyone having the same rights, whether financial, medical..whatever, but its not 'marriage'. Marriage is a man and a woman. Its like calling an apple an orange.

One other little important point, Marriage is not a right. I challenge anyone to find any language in the US Constitution or any state constitution that says you have a 'right' to marry. Its not there. You dont have a 'right' to drive either. That is why you have to get a LICENSE. You dont need a license for freedom of speech, b/c its a right. Marriage is not a right.
I responded:

The 14th Amendment to the Constitution says, in part, “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” How we should interpret words like “liberty” and “equal protection” is not left up to popular vote, but to judges appointed to do just that job. That’s what the California Supreme Court did on May 15 when it said they could find no injury to the state in allowing two people of the same sex to marry. We licence marriage and we license the right to drive, but for different reasons. We want people to know whether the people they are marrying have diseases, and we want people who drive to demonstrate they know how. The purpose in both cases is the protection of the individuals involved. In neither case is the state entitled to withhold the license on the basis of race, creed, religion, gender or any other identity marker.
Most people I know, I suspect, will wonder why I don’t have better things to do. This guy is not likely to change his mind.

I don’t know. Step by step. Forget the giant slaying, I say. Work instead on keeping the ants out of the sugar bowl.

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