Thom Yorke--"After The Goldrush (live)" (mp3)
Cracker--"Teen Angst" (mp3)
Teaching in a well-to-do, mostly white private boys' school, as I have done for the past 25 years, I have long since stopped doing battle with my students over politics. Many of us, when we were younger, found ourselves in do-or-die philosophical wars with our students over all things political. But there was a price to be paid for that; after all, we were not teaching political science. We were teaching English. And if you want your boys to stick with you through a hard text, you're going to have to put some things aside. That was an epiphany that took awhile.
For the longest time, we refused to acknowledge that our students were more conservative than we were and would continue to be so.
It seemed to go against the order of the universe. But the universe changes.
This time around, I can't claim that my students have seen the light, have come over to my side of things, have cast off their parents' wealth-and-religion based conservatism to embrace the promise that is Obama (although I have noticed more students in the Democratic ranks than ever before). No, some have come back from the summer having volunteered for the McCain campaign, and many of them still hiss when the Young Democrats announce their meetings during clubs period.
That doesn't matter to me. One reason I love the neverending stream of 18-and-under boys who populate this school is because they show me that things have changed far beyond what this country understands yet.
Case in point: it doesn't cross most of my seniors' minds that anyone would let race determine who they would vote for in a presidential election. Maybe that isn't quite right. They will talk about the "old racists" and what the "old racists" will do or say, but they talk as if those people, though still living, represent the values of another time. And they don't hold those older people in judgement either; there's more likely kind of a shoulder shrug or matter-of-fact restatement of those beliefs.
I'm not naive enough to ignore the haters out there or the under-their-breath mutterers, but most of the students I teach have the hubris, perhaps justified, to want to challenge the economic policies of a candidate who wants health care for everyone; they're not interested in discussions of race.
Maybe we've beaten it out of them: too many years of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Invisible Man, Native Son, The Color Purple, and the like. That is a possibility, because they aren't going to embrace a novel for its race any more than they are going to reject a candidate for his. They're like, 'Okay, I get it. Racism was bad. Please stop beating that message to death. We'd rather talk about whether or not individual suffering serves the greater good.'
My students have told me more than once, in more than one way, that the racial issues that I want to bring up don't matter to them. We forget, I think, that they've always lived in a world where if the black quarterback is better than the white one, then, of course, he should be the one who starts. We want to win, don't we? Apply the same thinking to any situation. And, for the same reason, they'd be upset if we went to them and said, 'We haven't ever started a black quarterback, so we need to start one now.' It would make no sense to them at all.
So we look at the upcoming election as being one of groundbreaking, historic proportions, a victory after years of struggle, a mandate for America. What do our students think? Maybe a little of that. They're certainly aware of it. But, more likely, they're thinking that if Obama wins, it will be because he ran the more effective campaign, and if he loses, it will be because he didn't. Sure, he faces obstacles, some of them unfair, some of them unethical, but so does any candidate, and it's his obligation to figure those out and to outmaneuver his opponent. That's the only way to win, isn't it? No one ever said it was going to be fair.
Thom Yorke's live performance of Neil Young's "After The Goldrush" took place at Young's Bridge Concerts. The well-known Cracker tune is available at Itunes.