Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Feeling Insecure About the National Security Agency

Kevin burst in the door.  “Dad!  Mom!” he shouted.  “Mrs. Eleutheria has been arrested!  We had a substitute for Civics this morning, and they don’t know when she’ll be back.”

“Arrested!?” said Patty.  “Mrs. Eleutheria?  What in the world is that about?”

“Her daughter Janis is in our class.  She said four FBI agents came to their house at 6:30 this morning and made her mom go off with them.  Mrs. Eleutheria hadn’t even had her cup of coffee yet.  They told her she had been under surveillance and was being ‘detained on suspicion of terrorist activities’.”

“We’re all under surveillance,” I said.  “But terrorism?  Mrs. Eleutheria?  I never would have suspected her.  She actually seemed like a nice lady.”

“She is a nice lady,” said Kevin, “and she’s a great teacher.  She makes her class exciting.  She doesn’t just make you read the book and then answer the questions at the end of the chapter, like some of the other teachers do.  She gets you working together on understanding issues, so you end of doing all kinds of research on your own and really dig into them.”

“Did she have a secret life?” I wondered.  “Is she an Arab involved in some plot to blow up the Statue of Liberty or something?”

Patsy gave me that look--the one that causes the hair on the back of your neck to curl as if it has just been singed by a flame.  “Don’t be ridiculous, Ace,” she said, “We’ve known Helena Eleutheria since Janis and Kevin were in kindergarten together.  She’s more patriotic than either one of us.  Furthermore, she’s Greek, not Arab.  Also, there’s nothing wrong with being an Arab.  Stereotyping Arabs as terrorists is as dumb as stereotyping Americans as ill-mannered, ignorant, overweight tourists.  And I shouldn’t have to remind you that Mrs. Eleutheria is presumed innocent.  By our legal system and by you and me.  Are we together on all that?”

“Oh, absolutely,” I said hastily.  “I just, uh ....”

“Good,” she said.  Then she turned to Kevin.  “Did Janis have any more information?”

“She told us the FBI agents weren’t saying much.  But her dad thinks it may have to do with our class.”

“Your class?  What do you mean?”

“Well, there’s this video that all the kids have been looking at on the Internet, where Russell Brand tells a BBC guy that the current political system is corrupt, lopsided, and serves the interests of the ruling class.  He says voting is a waste of time because it’s rigged to present lousy choices.  People keep voting for the lesser of two evils, and things just keep getting more evil.  He says there’s going to be a revolution, that he doesn’t have ‘a flicker of doubt’.”  [The video Kevin refers to can be seen at http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2013/10/24-6.]

“I don’t know who Russell Brand is,” I said, “but what did that have to do with your Civics class?”

“You sort of have to understand how Mrs. Eleutheria teaches, Dad.  She listened to what kids had to say about the video, and then she asked us whether the criticisms Russell Brand made were valid.  She asked how we could determine whether they were valid--what resources we could use.  She asked us whether we should pay any attention to what someone says when he admits he’s never voted in his life.  She asked if there were other options instead of revolution.  She asked us whether people had a right to revolt, and if so, under what conditions.  She asked about violent revolutions versus nonviolent revolutions.  She had us read the Declaration of Independence in the back of our books, and asked us why the revolution that established this country took place, and whether the reasoning given then still applies.  She asked people in the class to form groups and each pick a revolution that has taken place since the American Revolution, and see why it occurred, how it was justified, what its tactics were, and how successful it was in correcting the things that caused it in the first place.”

“That’s pretty impressive,” said Patty.  “She took something kids were already fired up about, linked it to our own history and world history, led you to wrestle with a fundamental document, had you think about source materials, caused you to do some serious thinking and analysis, and asked you to arrive at a justifiable conclusion.  That’s just great teaching!”

“We were learning a lot,” agreed Kevin.  “Some of the connections kids were making were really neat.  For instance, one girl in class pointed out that Pope Francis is saying some of the same things that Russell Brand was saying.  Francis called the current economy ‘a betrayal of the common good.’  And he’s talked about the need for ecological commitment, saying that ‘Work must be connected to the custody of creation.’  When Russell Brand shares some key ideas with the Pope, it makes you think he’s not just ‘a trivial man,’ which is what the interviewer called him at one point.”

“I must be missing something,” said Patty.  “What’s the harm?  We’re talking about a Civics class, and all of this discussion sounds like a wonderful way to get kids really thinking about our government and our current political situation.” 

“Yeah,” said Kevin, “but there was all this talk about revolution, and people were posting on Facebook about it and tweeting on Twitter about it and conducting searches on the Internet about it and having live chats about it.  And all of those things are being spied on by the National Security Agency.  Maybe the people running the government start getting antsy when they hear ordinary people talking about revolution.”

“Let’s not get paranoid, Kevin,” I laughed.  “Once the FBI actually sits down and talks with Mrs. Eleutheria, she’ll be back in the classroom by tomorrow.”

He looked a little doubtful.  “I’m not so sure,” he said.  “According to Janis, her father said that believing our government is some kind of benign force promoting freedom and democracy at home and abroad can be a dangerous delusion.”

“He what?!”

“He told her to look up what we did to democracy in Iran,  Guatemala, the Congo, and Chile.”

“Surely you don’t think...,” I began.

“I don’t know, Dad,” said Kevin.  “The kids in my class are really worried about her mother.  We feel pretty insecure about the National Security Agency.”

“Um, you weren’t posting anything about a revolution on Facebook were you, Kevin?” I asked nervously.  “Or tweeting about it?  Or researching revolutions on the Internet?”

“Just a minute, Dad, I think there’s somebody at the door,” he said.


“Ha!” he said.  “Made you jump, didn’t I?”

“Kevin,” I said angrily, “this is no laughing matter.”

© Tony Russell, 2013

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