Some great connections...
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
I'm reading a book called A YEAR IN THE SOUTH: 1865, by a historian of the American Civil War. The writer's name is Stephen Ash, and in the book he tells "The True Story of Four Ordinary People Who Lived Through the Most Tumultuous Twelve Months in American History". The caps aren't mine – this is the book's sub title. I'm not a historian. Chose geography instead, and am grateful to have been spared British history in high school. But I have always enjoyed these kinds of stories, history as it walked and talked its way through the lives of individuals, especially the lives of ordinary folks. Ash's sources in this case are two diaries from the period, a memoir and an autobiography. The autobiographer is the only black person, a slave, Louis Hughes, who managed to secure his freedom and that of his wife and child in 1865. The other three figures, a woman and two men, are rebels, secessionists, supporters of the Confederacy. I'm struck, more than anything else, by how ready "people" (which does not, in this case, include the slaves, whose behaviour is restrained beyond belief) were to do violence, wreak vengeance on one another, white on black, white on white. So many ordinary people in the account are cruel – women and men – or turn cruel as the wind changes. And these are all good, Christian, God-fearing folk. It shed light on the nowadays behaviour of soldiers, peace-keeping or otherwise, in conflicts and hot spots all over the world. It illuminated the behaviour of politicians even better. And it left me grateful that my own emerging story necessitated my leaving the classroom many years ago. I would not have wanted, at this stage of my life, to be wrestling with questions about what my responsibilities were in shaping the behaviours of those who passed through my hands: what I should have done that I didn't do; what I did do that I ought not to have done; whether I prayed, each day, hard enough about what my teaching would help to effect in the minds and hearts and imaginations of those I taught. Don't get me wrong: I'm not saying that you and I are not as responsible as all the teachers, lecturers, administrators and ministry of education staff in the world. But I know my own breast-beating propensities, and had I been a teacher, my bosom wouldn't be able to withstand the wear and tear.