27.10.03

Breaking the Rules of School

Today, in the middle of class, I cried. I wasn't the only one though, fully one half of my class of 18 people were crying. Today the rules of school were broken in the middle of my Christianity and Social Activism class. There is some kind of unwritten rule that education in the university doesn't get personal; your hands don't get dirty, your faces don't get wet, and your heart doesn't even get brushed.

Later on in class, we, the students, were challenged!! Challenged in the sense of actually being encouraged to do something, and exhorted to change things. This is another no no. You can't ask a university student to DO something. Oh sure, you can get them to write an essay or an exam, maybe do some lab work. But you can't ask them to do anything meaningful because that might insult someone's value system.

How could this happen? How were the rules of school subverted in the middle of that UofA classroom? The same way rules are always broken: with Money. You see, that class is not funded by the UofA. It is a religous studies course, and so it must conform to all the academic standards appropriate to its level, but having independent funding allows for some flexibility. Some rich philanthropist in Calgary funds this course, and he runs it with the hope of making social activists out of some of the students. It is not required for the grade, but it is encouraged. Apparently there has even been some success.

Today we had a two guest speakers; a chaplain in a reintegration program for women prisoners, and a woman who is at the end of that process (which means that just recently, three years after getting out of prison, she finally has a job). This woman, Diana, told us her story. It was one of those stories that you always hear in circumstances like this, yeah you can already hear it can't you? But having the women sit in front of us, seeing her go through the emotions as she retold them, bursting into tears several times, it softened the hearts of many of us white gloved, clean, middle class students.

When she was six, Diana recieved second and third degree burns to her face. It was an accident involving boiling water. Thats when the abuse started. She was abused and sexually assaulted nearly every day from the age of seven until 12. At the age of 13 she had her first drink, and discovered how to escape the pain. She started doing cocaine a few years later. She got into two abusive marriages, and had several children. All teh while, her and her husband were dealers in order to maintain their habit. They usually made enough to keep up their habit (over one thousand dollars a day), but not enough to buy their children birthday or Christmas presents. Eventually she got caught and went to jail. While she was in jail, several grandchildren were born. One of her daughters had to have a cicerian section done (i think i spelled that wrong), and she was unable to be there for her daughter. Up until going to prison she thought she wasn't hurting anyone but herself. She realized that wasn't true. So she cleaned up, found God, and eventually got out of prison. Shortly thereafter her husband hung himself.

Today, she said that going to prison was the best thing that ever happened to her. While she cried during her talk, she encouraged all of us to do what we can for people in prison. The chaplain quotes the verse in matthew from the parable of the sheep and the goats. She read all of the things we are supposed to do, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give drink to the thirsty, etc. except for visiting the prisoner, and asked us how many of us did one some of those things. All hands went up. Then she read the part about visiting the prisoners and asked how many of us did that.

Silence.

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