Yesterday, it was one of those extraordinary windy days. The cold norther Bora ripping through the valley of Mostar. As I walked home, the wind was cool but not the brutally icy. But when I reached the bridge to the eastern side, the wind suddenly picked up. I felt myself careening toward the road. Another woman in front of me suddenly stopped. We both stopped still. It took all my strength to keep from being blown into the road. Then I took a tentative step, and kept going. At one point, I feared the wind would send me over to the left , over the bridge. I wonder if this has ever happened.
The wind had picked up the trash from the dumpster, leaving the streets a chaotic mess of plastic bags and paper. Under the dumpster, I could see the wind had been so strong, the cold corpse of cat, which had been there for over a week, had completely turned over. This cat looks exactly like the stray kitten that wandered up to my apartment, and who now lives here.
The wind howled all night, and at one point, it felt like the whole house was shaking and moving.
That afternoon, I had been discussing the meaning of cultural studies with my students, who confuse such shows as Friends with America. What cultural products, I asked them, are unique to your culture? As usual, they were stumped. The more I lecture here, the more I feel that the only answer to the complex political and social issues is education: an education that insists upon critical thinking, and not recitation. Asked a simple question, I see a sea of blank faces. They honestly have no idea how to formulate an answer. Still, there are a couple of students who do talk, ask questions, and are curious. This gives me hope, although it seems to make the other students nervous. They seem to find those who speak to be worthy of a laugh. It is something that I am puzzled about a lot here. The relative value of education to these young people, who wish for a future, who are frustrated by the lack of progress, but who, when given opportunity in class, don’t’ know how, or don’t want to take it. I encounter this at home as well. Will they understand if I tell them about my experiences here? Will they understand how fortunate they are to have access to such educational opportunities?
Education is far more than learning facts. Sure, I knew it was windy here, and yet, only by experiencing it, and then writing it out do I understand how the wind affects life here. Everyone expects the wind but you never know when it might start. There is little defense against it, except layers of clothing, and a careful measured movement in the path of the wind. Yet, you can’t expect the wind to keep you from your life. It can turn a beautiful sunny day such as today into a cheerless experience, if you let it. Likewise, my class of sophomores makes me frustrated. But then, looking at it clearly, I see it is symptomatic. It isn’t just the lack of questioning, it is the lack of regard for the classroom. A number of these students act like they are in middle school, giggling, passing notes, making jokes among themselves.
It is likely that most of us have been in class we disliked or found dull, but manners alone should prevent one from such behavior. Yet, it seems like many don’t care about learning, because I think few really have experienced that. I found this tendency of ill manners and casual regard for education in the United States, too. Rote memorization, standardized tests, and the quick bits of facts from the internet all affect one’s ability to develop complex thoughts. It makes it a challenge for someone trained to ask questions, and analyze answers.