American Report Card: An F in the Three C’s —by Jinny Batterson
For much of my formal schooling, several times each school year I’d bring home a report card. In high school and then college, those reports typically evaluated my performance based on a scale from “A” to “F,” where “A” was the best grade possible, and “F” represented failure in a particular course. My grades in all subjects were mostly A’s and B’s—enough to be on the honor roll of students with superior study skills and motivation. I rarely got a C—which counted as the average.
Some of my course names also fell in the A to F range—algebra, biology, chemistry, drama, English, French. Recently I sent a postcard, a low-tech equivalent of a tweet, to a member of our national government, suggesting a set of three C’s as subject matter to measure how we as a nation are doing: curiosity, compassion, and care for nature. I also suggested that these universal human values, long assumed to be part of the American ethos, needed some shoring up on our shores. In the wake of various recent national policy shifts, our country’s reputation for such values has dramatically declined. Curiosity, compassion, and care for nature are in somewhat short supply in United States official policies due to cutbacks in science funding, rollbacks of environmental safeguards and global climate agreements, but especially in the way we are treating recent immigrants.
After I mailed the card, I mused about the letter “F,” signifying failure, but also fear, fear that can produce or compound both personal and systems failures. Certain fears are sensible motivators to prepare for environmental or life challenges: fears of earthquakes, tsunamis, blizzards, floods, erratic weather, poisonous snakes and spiders, rabid animals, aging, ill health, losses of loved ones in dangerous situations. Other fears function mainly to divide us, worsening real or perceived unfairness, especially when combined with scapegoating of some convenient “other.” We may be persuaded to be frightened of job losses, loss of income, loss of housing, loss of our ability to pay for needed medical screenings or treatments, loss of property or property value, all because “they” are encroaching on “our” prerogatives. Fear can be the opposite of all three C’s, shutting us off from exploration, from compassionate and thoughtful dialogue, from other meaningful interactions with our fellow humans and other creatures. We may engage in more and more absurd rituals to try to protect our presumed advantages.
Most of the immigrants in my family came to what is now the United States of America before there were immigration quotas or even a U.S.A. I’m not in danger of being deported. Still, I am troubled by many aspects of the current immigration debate. I’ve found recent reports of children taken from their loved ones at border crossings and put into detention away from their parents or close relatives deeply disturbing. Such behavior suggests an absence of curiosity, compassion, or care for nature.
Splitting apart families who cross our borders to seek asylum from violence in their countries of origin is both morally wrong and politically untenable. Tasking our border security agents with taking children from their parents or close relatives and putting these children into separate detention facilities is much more likely to breed future terrorists and thugs than engaging in more proactive, humane procedures. Taking infants, toddlers, and young children from their loved ones is, by almost anyone’s definition, a sign of unfounded fear, an abject policy failure, a huge red “F.” Got any postcards handy?