In the early days of Saturday Night Live, their “Weekend Update” segment would have occasional appearances by Emily Litella (Gilda Radner), a schoolmarm-ish editorialist who would give stinging opinions on a variety of topics while squinting menacingly at the camera. Unfortunately, Miss Litella was hearing-impaired, so her rants were hilariously directed at the wrong targets (protecting natural “racehorses” instead of natural resources, for example). When told of her error, Miss Litella would half-heartedly apologize to the news anchor (Chevy Chase or Jane Curtin), and then to the audience…”Never mind!” Take a look at one of her escapades here…then come back.
Okay, now that you got the gist…I had my own Emily Litella moment today, and I’d like to share it with you…as embarrassed as I am to admit it.
The instructor for my Social Studies class sent us the outline for her class this afternoon; after reading the first couple of paragraphs, I was shocked…shocked, I tell you! While she described how the class was going to delve deep into the exclusionary tactics faced by many students (racism, classism, religious/non-religious discrimination, etc.), the focus of the class would be on the role of atheism and how its prevalence affects education in the United States.
Atheism?? Wait…there’s a culture of atheism that had led to the promotion of exclusion in the United States? Was atheism being compared to racism, sexism and the like in keeping minorities, the disabled and the LGBT community from attending the good schools? Did my professor have an agenda of spreading anti-atheist propaganda amongst the student body at Teachers College?
A look at the syllabus gave me further pause: the two main projects for the course, of which I had to choose one, focused on showing how anti-atheist procedures could be created and implemented in the classrooms of elementary schools. That’s right, we had to come up with ways to debunk the debunkers before they got their hands on our precious little sheep…er, children!
As an atheist myself, I was appalled! I was livid! Hell, I was burnt! I was ready to fire off a letter of protest to this instructor! How could she possibly teach a class in inclusion and fairness, while forcing us to participate in anti-atheist activities? That was beyond hypocritical! The more I thought about it, the more upset I became, until I was about to transfer out of her class altogether.
I checked the course catalog to see if there were any other options, but there were none, meaning I would have to suffer through this indignity in order to get the necessary credits for my degree. I would have to swallow my pride and muddle through as best I can, all the while wrestling with the internal emotional struggle faced by my personal morals. How could such a prestigious university endorse such a horrible class…one that puts the souls of the majority against the beliefs of the few, and discriminates against the non-believer while it champions the efforts of those who fight against all other forms of discrimination? I was so beside myself, I was ready to go to my advisor and file a formal protest…
…then I read my syllabus again, this time on my 27” iMac. Oh dear.
Umm…it appears I made a little mistake. I saw atheism where it actually reads ableism. Ableism? I didn’t even know that was a word! Even as I type this, MS Word has it underlined in red. I had to look it up.
“Well, that’s very different. I’m sorry….that’ll never happen again.”
So…what’s the moral of the story? If you’re a person who is sensitive to an issue, be VERY careful not to see a problem concerning that issue where there is none. Misreading a single word could have cause a truckload of problems for me, not the least of which would have been being labeled the class idiot even before the class started. Before we set off to fight against an idea or a perceived attack on our values, be sure that what you’re about to attack is an attack at all—it could very well be a defense, or a strong offense in your favor. Learning how those with disabilities are given the short end of the stick when it comes to education is something I should pay very close attention to…especially considering the fact that I myself am visually-impaired.
In the words of Emily Litella…“Never mind.”