Friday, February 29, 2008

Important News Story

Please read this article. Some friends of mine covered it in the hopes of helping the priest, who is a friend of some of them.

Fr. Gallagher

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Student Teaching

I'm beginning to get used to student teaching. I've taught three classes, and it's becoming less of a huge life crisis to go into the classroom and teach on my own.

Really, student teaching is very much like something else I've done: nannying. On the one hand, you have time to prepare and a bit of distance from the kids you're taking care of. This gives you a chance to come up with some ideas the parent or "real" teacher hasn't thought of.

On the other hand, you're trespassing into something you don't completely understand. Your "fresh" point of view on the class seems like intrusion if you state it too positively. Our professor told us it's like being in your mother-in-law's kitchen: you want to help, but you have to make sure to help in such a way that the master teacher still feels in charge. It would be a huge embarrassment for them if you're better at in than they are, even if only in one aspect.

The real problem is one I had on my very first nanny job. You walk into a situation with no discipline, where you are not respected, and there's nothing you can do because you only have them a few hours a week. What can you do in that time to undo a year of habit? You're not the authority. It's not that the students are bad ... it's just that they don't listen. If I had them every day, I think I could teach them I mean business. But in one day a week, all I can do is preserve the status quo. Too many changes and the master teacher might not like it. And I teach with the master teachers watching. They tell me what to do and I do it, because there's only so much leeway I have in preparing my lessons.

That's not to say that this has been my complete experience. This is not like the nanny days with little hoodlums running around and there's nothing you can do to make them sit still. Some classes are better than others. But the fact is, no student teacher can fix all the problems she sees. It's a little frustrating sometimes.

Debate Club: Torture

One of my big activities this semester is debate club. It only meets every couple of weeks, on Sunday nights, but whatever topic we debate ends up the huge controversy for the whole week. I'm always getting into conversations about the topics.

Two weeks ago we debated whether torture could ever be morally permissible. Unfortunately, we didn't have one solid definition of torture. I liked the government's definition, which one person brought up, of "extreme physical pain or mental anguish inflicted for the purpose of extracting information." The only problem with it was the definition of "extreme." But I think we all could agree that certain things are extreme. I would say that extracting fingernails or electrocuting someone, both examples brought up in the debate, would count.

I was amazed to find that, even without arguing with this defnition, many people still thought torture was acceptable. Basically the argument was that if enough lives were in danger, it didn't really matter what we did to one person. Coming out of Catholics, Catholics who have received good theological instruction, the idea shocked me. Haven't we all learned that the ends never justify the means? Unless they could prove the means were morally good or neutral, they couldn't justify it for any reason, no matter how good. No one was able to do that.

An important question that was touched on at the debate, and brought up often afterward, was the guilt or innocence of the person being tortured. It seems to me that it is wrong to inflict harm on the innocent, just as it is wrong to kill the innocent even when there are circumstances where one can kill the guilty (capital punishment, self-defense). And it also seems you would have to have pretty strong proof against someone to be certain they were guilty of something.

But someone argued that withholding information from the legitimate authority of this country was in itself a crime and worthy of punishment. The punishment would continue until the crime ceased, i.e., the information was revealed. However, torture is not generally inflicted on American citizens, who one might argue should obey the government. It is inflicted on citizens of other nations, following the instructions of their nations. So, in this case, it would be a crime for them to obey our government when their own has forbidden them from doing so.

A rather outlandish argument I heard was an argument from the Church's allowance for capital punishment in certain circumstances. If someone is guilty of a crime, as argued above, they deserve death. If we can kill them in justice, obviously we may harm them in any way we see fit. They have renounced their human dignity.

That totally ignores recent statements on capital punishment, limiting it to circumstances when it is necessary for the protection of society. Capital punishment does not exist to satisfy justice, but to protect society. Even a criminal retains his human dignity. For the protection of others, we may remove him from society, but we do not treat him with cruelty. Our constitution specifies that we may not use cruel and unusual punishments. In Elizabethan England, thieves had their ears docked or their hands cut off. America does not work that way; it was founded on a basis of human rights. We must treat all human beings with respect.

I had two main arguments against torture which I presented at the debate. The first was that no one had been able to mark out a clear line between just and unjust torture. There seemed no specific point where a torturer would have to stop, if his subject did not break down. People stood up at this debate saying they had no idea where the line was, but that they were willing to torture someone for a good reason. That means that they would undertake an action without knowing whether they were on the moral or immoral side of the action.

It troubles me to hear people stand up and say that Americans torturing terrorists is okay, and that Vietnamese soldiers torturing American POW's is not okay, without being able to specify the difference except for the idea that "we're the good guys." Being the good guys is not enough. You have to actually be good. To stay the "good guys," you have to be able to defend exactly how your actions can be defined as good.

Without a clear line, you reach situations as happen in the TV show 24. (It was brought up much too often in this debate!) In the second season, Jack Bauer knocks out some teeth on a terrorist because he knows a bomb has been planted in Los Angeles and won't say where. By the fourth season, he electrocutes his girlfriend's ex-husband because Jack has a vague suspicion the man might know something about a conspiracy. There is no clear moral line where Jack knows he has to stop. And it seems he's addicted to torture, because he's ceased to believe he can gain information any other way. (For all Jack-lovers out there, I'm sorry. Jack is not God.)

My other objection to torture is simply its goal. The goal of torture is to break the will of the prisoner, so that he will go against his principles and tell you what he believes he must not. People say it is impossible to break anyone's will--after all, the early Christians were tortured and did not give up their faith. Well, the Christians had divine help. Apart from that, given enough torture, there are few people who would not deny their very soul. Read 1984. Under torture, a man agrees to say that four is five, and even "try to believe it." Can you be certain you would not do the same? The human will is strong, but not invincible. And it is the image of God in man. I cannot think of anything less in accordance with human dignity to say that I will break the image of God in anyone.

So, just my two cents. It was not listened to. The vote was 23 for, 7 against, and 7 abstensions. I was ashamed of my fellow students, that they would come to such a conclusion without even placing any limitation on torture. I comfort myself by saying most people like me, who looked at the poster and thought, "Torture? What's the point in that argument? No one will defend torture," probably didn't show up. I hope this is true. But I am beginning to see the dark underside of conservatism, which denies good things like mercy simply because the liberals support them. Many conservatives support torture without a second thought. But I cannot be persuaded to do so, no matter what was at stake.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Introducing my new blog

Hello, Internet world. Welcome to my new blog. On my other blog, Enchiridion, I've commented on poetry for almost three years now, but I've kept my own life and my own opinions out of it most of the time.

Now, I've decided I really do want to talk about those things, though out of the way of my poetry, so I started this new blog just to talk about me, my life, and my thoughts about the world in general. I doubt it will be hugely popular, but it will be a chance for me to formulate my thoughts and communicate to the people who do read it.

So, some facts about me that might be useful to know:

1. I'm a senior at a Catholic, liberal arts college. I'm majoring in English and minoring in Classics.

2. I'm hoping to be a high school teacher. Right now I'm student teaching, which is extremely stressful but a great learning experience.

3. Politically, I'm working things out. I was brought up Republican but am very disillusioned with the party right now. So I remain conservative, with a bit of healthy (or unhealthy) distrust of politicians.

4. Religiously, I'm an orthodox Catholic. There is no Church teaching which I refuse to believe. Having said that, though, I might mention that I disagree with a lot of things done in the name of orthodox Catholicism. I might go into that later.

I think that's all you really know to get started. Soon I will start posting on my experiences and reflections. I hope you enjoy!