It has taken me nearly two weeks to muster the energy to write this post. You see, I’m a Unitarian Universalist, and on Sunday, July 27, a gunman walked into the packed Knoxville church and opened fire. Two died and seven others were wounded. A letter found in his truck indicated that he harbored hatred for liberals and gays who he perceived as preventing him for getting a job. Subsequent reports revealed a deeply troubled man who planned to keep shooting until the police came and killed him. It would be easy to write him off as another crazy person who had somehow gotten his hands on a gun. And, even as I mourn for the Knoxville church, I know this isn’t the worst mass shooting nor is it the last. But this one hit pretty close to home for me and not just because it was directed towards people of my faith. Another reason is because it also reminds us that promoting civil discourse is one of the most important things we can do as we send our students out into both the real and virtual worlds.
That was the theme of an article I wrote–“Don’t Feed the Trolls: Using Blogs to Teach Civil Discourse“–for Learning & Leading With Technology that appeared in the May 2008. I’m in the process of getting permission to put the article on my website so for now you need to be an ISTE member to read it. Why is this important to this story? Because I, at least, had my head in the sand when it came to the rhetoric of hate that has been directed towards liberals. Evidently, joking about killing liberals and issuing liberal hunting licenses is fair game for cable news commentators, radio entertainers, and conservative bloggers. I wrote about this in my personal blog:
Really? Someone, anyone, finds it funny to talk about killing people like me because of my political views. I might find Russ Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly offensive but I would never wish their death.
And I found myself wondering how we got here…where hateful rhetoric like this is not only accepted but seemingly encouraged. While I wouldn’t want to blame people like Sean Hannity for what happened last Sunday, his ongoing war against liberals certainly didn’t help. For someone who is mentally unbalanced, these relenting attacks become an underlying soundtrack to a tragic life and offer up an easy target. Tom Friedman says that while he was sleeping, the world got flat. While I was sleeping, the world got ugly.
We can DO something about this, folks. We can talk to kids about how words–whether spoken or written–really matter. I’m sure there are liberals out there who are also guilty of negative rhetoric although my own bias might make it more difficult for me to really hear them. As you head into the school year and start getting your kids on the web, please take the time to include civil discourse in your conversations with them.