A long, long time ago in a faraway land known as Colorado lived a girl who was worried about what we now call “the environment.” The term wasn’t in use yet and it always kind of bothered the girl, anyway. She went away to college — to a woman’s college in Denver that was funded mostly by the American Baptist Convention. They had given her $25k to go to school there. It paid for housing, food, tuition. Everything.
She wanted to be an artist when she grew up (against the advice of the US gubmint [who picked up part of the tab for her schooling] and her mom). Their advice to her was that she become a journalist.
Being a freshman, just 18, right out of high school, she knew practically EVERYTHING and had COMPLETE confidence that before she graduated she’d have fixed most of the major problems in the world.
Her sculpture teacher assigned an “earth” sculpture project after they had had a fieldtrip to the big state University in the next town and saw a lot of earth sculpture. The girl was VERY happy. She had a plan. She was going to get some cedar fenceposts, some plastic flags like were used at used car lots and a real estate for sale sign. She would erect it by the art building. She sketched it, and planned it, and hornswoggled the guy who wanted to get her in bed to drive her out east of the city (probably where DIA is now).
So the night before the project was due, she dug the postholes. She planted the poles. She acquired the flags. She got the For Sale sign and scraped off all the words, but it still looked like what it was. She did her project, never, never thinking what it might mean to passers by and not knowing that the school was in big financial trouble and THAT’S why it had lately changed its name from Colorado Womans College to Temple Buell College. Temple Buell had money, but also an ego the size of the buildings he designed.
When morning came, all that remained were three holes. She was called into the office of the President and lectured. No one asked her what she had meant; it didn’t matter to them that her sculpture was a representation of the last open land on the earth, a small triangle of open “space.” The president asked the young woman, “What on earth were you thinking?” And explained the financial situation of the college and told her that people had called asking if the college were for sale.
She’d raised a big problem for the college because of a situation about which she had NO idea. It was — for her — the first glint she had of her comparative size in the universe.
What we don’t know, probably at any time in our lives, is that we DON’T KNOW, but this is especially true at that juncture in our lives. Teaching post-adolescents for as long as I did, I got to witness thousands of examples of a kid being one person at age 18 and a completely (almost) different person at age 21. This is a time of rapid brain development and awakening in a lot of young people. Unfortunately, many of us freeze in that moment. For whatever reason — hating school, not having had the chance to further our education, not having a basically inquiring mind, maybe a million reasons — we don’t grow past that point of strong, adamant and ignorant opinions. We BECOME our beliefs and don’t ask questions.
I didn’t do that. I know I didn’t. Does it make me “better” than other people? I don’t know. It does make me different than some. Mental and intellectual flexibility matter to me, partly because of my — oops — that young woman’s experience with the post holes, the cedar fence posts, the plastic flags, the sign and the college president. I loved my college. I didn’t want to put it in any danger, but I was a kid and the big picture was not yet open to me.
Yesterday, on Facebook, in one of the local groups to which I belong, a photo was posted of a work of art at the nearby university, Adams State. It’s a piece of protest art. It stimulated a LOT of noise, but I see it as the kind of thing EXACTLY a young person would do. People generally seem to have their minds made up about things and their “responses” are knee jerk reactions, but it did stimulate a few thoughtful responses. The work ITSELF is pretty bad. It was a response to this topic from a critical thinking class:
…make something that challenges ‘the assumptions or principles relating to or inherent in a sphere, theory, or thing, especially when concerned with power and status in a society.”
So a teacher challenged students. The piece displays ignorance, passion and a LITTLE knowledge. (Sorry I don’t know know and couldn’t find the name of the artist.)
My comment on the thread was:
Of course, there was reaction against what people THOUGHT I said (normal for social media) but there was comprehension, too.
It is the work of a post-adolescent who feels strongly about the direction politics in this country is taking. It really pissed people off, and showed me, again, what’s wrong with social media. NONE of these people would even have KNOWN about this work without Facebook. It would have done its job on a university campus, maybe have been written about in the campus paper. Unlike the young woman in the story above, this student is going to imagine his/her size in the universe is pretty big, that his/her feelings are very important, that he/she has said something meaningful and worth fighting for. The “artist” might think he/she is finished with the idea and has mastered it. That’s not the best lesson.
I hate social media because it brings out the worst in people. It makes people defensive and aggressive. A complex topic like this one deserves more than just, “I’m not sending my kid to ASU!” or “Disrespecting veterans,” or, the worst, “This is why China euthanized an entire generation.”
But the paradox of America that I will never understand is Freedom of Speech. People love it, want it, value it, until someone says something they don’t like.