John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education

Just Say Anything

January 20, 2010John N. GardnerHaiti0

Some years ago there was a film about a student struggling to decide what he would say in a commencement address to his fellow students. He was advised to “just say anything.” That is my thought precisely about what to say to our students regarding this extraordinary tragedy unfolding in Haiti.

No matter what our subject or role with students, we must say something. This is an extraordinary moment to bring into relief the vast difference in quality of lives between American college students, no matter what their means, and the suffering people of Haiti.

We have so many choices for how to approach this. One that comes to mind to me is to go beyond analysis of who Haiti became to be the poorest sovereign nation in the western hemisphere. Indeed it is important for students to understand the role of the US as one of the imperial powers responsible for the culture of this nation (in addition to France). But what strikes me as particularly relevant are all the cries this year from the right about too much government in the US. The lack now of essentially any government in the failed state that is Haiti poses an extraordinary teachable moment for students to examine why human society needs government and what are or should be the minimum essentials of what all governments should provide.

Thank goodness, many of our students will do more than many of us; they will do more than “talk” about this. They will act and go to Haiti to contribute what they have the most of: time, energy, passion, strength, compassion. The impact on our students will be profound.

In the meantime: Just say anything!

-John Gardner

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