Well, good news to me, anyway. Two of my students made the news this week and they have something interesting in common.
Andria Enns was profiled in the Independence Examiner for her next adventure spreading the ideas of peace journalism in the world. I take no credit for this, by the way. She was inspired by my colleague Steven Youngblood to pursue this concept. He took her to Uganda a summer ago and, she says, changed her life.
I have to be honest here and admit I'm not completely comfortable with the principles of peace journalism. How can you not be comfortable with an effort for peace, you say? Well, that's the problem.
The catch is this: peace journalism is about suppressing the inflammatory language in reporting, language which can lead to violence and death. That's a huge simplification and doesn't do the principles justice but I'm going to spare you a long treatise at this point. The rub is I'm old school about journalism -- somebody said it, I report it. Somebody is angry, I report somebody is angry. A little passion is necessary in the world. People ought to be angry about injustice and war.
But I see the other side, too, how inflammatory language can actually cause injustice and war. And, I haven't always been in love with the way journalism is done in the world. That's why I became a teacher. You can hide behind the idea of objective journalism only so long before you realize doing journalism ought to do more than line the pockets of a few corporations.
More on this later. Back to Andria, who generally supports peace journalism in her travels by doing good in communities where a little good is badly needed. She doesn't sweat the principles; she gets dirty doing the work. I'm obviously proud to be her teacher.
My other student in the news is Anthony Hardwick. OK, Anthony graduated several years ago but, you know, when does my student stop being my student? I'm also proud of Anthony. He is the guy up in Omaha who had guts enough to start a petition drive against his own boss over the ridiculous practice of opening retail stores on Thanksgiving night, turning a family holiday celebrated by everyone -- a holiday with no religious barriers, and, also, no actual basis in history -- into just another marketing event.
Anthony gathered a stunning number of petitioners. He was featured in big articles and interviews everywhere, including the New York Times, which did a thoughtful profile on him.
If, after garnering this publicity, no public relations firm can see what a dynamo he is, well... nobody can get hired in public relations anymore. Who wouldn't want a guy who can singlehandedly launch a petition drive that gets him interviewed on CNN and MSNBC and into the pages of the New York Times? My guess is he won't be working two retail jobs much longer.
I was particularly proud of the way he presented himself and his ideas in those interviews. This man has something to offer the world. He can bring a little good to a world in bad need of good.
Which brings me, belatedly -- it is Sunday morning by the way and the only thing I have to do is snake a backed up drain... why hurry the writing -- to the point. Both of these students have decided to go out and do good in the world. Doing good in this world is no small choice.
A few years ago, the university decided to write itself a new mission statement. Don't get me started. But here's the interesting thing about the process. I proposed to the mammoth committee in charge of the writing that the mission statement conclude by saying our graduates would be committed to doing good in the world.
A hue and cry went up in the room. Folks shifted uncomfortably in their seats. Teeth gnashed. Suddenly the big screen where ideas were being typed froze. I knew immediately I'd stepped on a land mine. Who can define good!? One person's good is not another person's good? One culture's good is not another culture's good? It reminded me of the professor in Tom Wolfe's latest novel who always made air-quotes with his fingers when he said the word "god".
Here the offending word was "good".
Quickly, the committee suggested something better. The university would produce "graduates who are committed to their communities." That was my sentence without the phrases "doing good". It took the committee less than five frantic minutes to go from "...graduates who are committed to doing good in their communities" to "...graduates who are committed to their communities." I suggested that gang members are quite committed to their communities. At that point, the whole concept just erased itself from the big screen.
If an institution of higher learning cannot even commit to graduating students with the responsibility of doing good in their communities, who can?
Well, the graduates can. As Andria -- who hasn't even graduated yet -- and Anthony -- who has just begun doing what he will do in the world -- have shown, using a college education for doing good is not a lost concept. Not lost on some of our best students, anyway.