Sunday, March 15, 2009

Keeping the Faith After "Doubt"

We went to see "Doubt" tonight. Each of us had our own point of view -- substantially influenced by our own life experiences. Two former Catholics -- one East Coast New Englander; the other Venezuelan; one Japanese American retired school teacher; and two with experiences which they did not refer to in relation to the movie, so I can't say for sure.

Any analysis of "Doubt" in the end, as in reality, says more about the observer than the observed.
My own life experience has rendered me a person with no doubt. I don't know if that's good or bad, but it would feel earth shaking for me to be otherwise.

1. The priest was just a priest, being a priest as he believed he should be. Was he gay or straight? I don't know. What I do know is that his life experience led him to feel compassion for the African American gay child entering into puberty, and fear for him in the restricted, homophobic, racist society he had been born into. He felt protectiveness and accepted him for who he was. I had no doubt that his love for William was a nurturing love -- a love of a teacher, a preacher, a parent. Perhaps, then, he was gay to have such understanding of William and what he would be going through but we don't know. For sure, though, he was not a pedophile.

2. The young Black and gay student entering into adolescence may have had a crush on his priest -- as young people often do, of teachers, and adults they look up to. He did not have a father who understood or loved him or accepted him for who he was, a father who did not see the beauty he brought into the world.

3. Remember Nun Aloysius asked the mother accusingly, "what kind of mother are you?"
The mother may not have understood her son's sexual identity but she loved her son. The mother would rather his son passed into highschool, that his son was cared about by a significant adult, that her son could survive no matter what and that he was happy.

4. The Nun, Aloyisius, we all have experienced the hand of the Nun/schoolteacher/preacher/maybe even parent, so sure of what was natural and what was not that they would take radical measure to be right. Otherwise their world would come tumbling down. We know the person who would bully those they feared (fearing they might shake their control -- teens, authority, other points of view). Often these bullying people showed such contradictory nurturing to the helpless -- the elderly, the ill, those who did not shake their world. It's amazing how often people like these are put into positions of middle power, closest to the rank and file. Those in power would not put them with the children. Parents would be continuously complaining. And would not place them with themselves in their administrator's club.

5. The teacher, the Nun ________________, saw the priest hug the young student and it scared her. This child had no fatherly hug in his life. This child deserved to be hugged. This child needed a hug especially on the day he began to be seen as a problem child -- stripped of being an alter boy, harassed and humiliated, sent to the principal. We can remember even now, can't we, how a day like that made us doubt ourselves? But the Nun was afraid of the hug. She could only see it in the sordid light of her Catholic fear, homophobia, racial tension, and the sexual repression of the Fifties and Sixties. After the hug, she became the teacher authoritarian, bullying and humilating the young African American gay student for daydreaming, silencing another student for being excited to share the answer, sending him to the principal for answering her question, screaming at him, deriding him when he came back until he quaked in fear. "This is my classroom," she shrieked. And felt the loneliness and wrongness of a teacher who owned the classroom by herself.

It was perfect that the film was set in the 60's. We remember the Sixties. There was a revolution in the schools. Teachers were hugging their kids. They were teaching everyone's history. They were bringing relevance, interaction, play into thei classroom. Out went the texts. In came paperbacks, simulations, art. Down came the walls. Now, of course, teachers in the US are told not to even touch their students or they might get into trouble.

6. The day dreamer, the alienated student may not have heard the question or known the answer of Patrick Henry saying "Give me liberty or give me death" or FDR's "There is nothing to fear but fear itself" but he certainly knew it with every cell, living in a fearful world -- where a father loathed who he was, beat him, where he had to hide his true self or be beaten, where only one teacher loved him for who he was and cared what happened to him, even gave him that second chance, and that teacher left.

7. The teacher left because it is hard to teach with compassion in a toxic, fearful, dangerous environment. In fact, impossible because in the end, the children will be the victims of the hate which falls all around you. It stops if you leave for most students -- and for the few for whom you made all the difference in the world, they will be sacrificed, of course, and it will weigh on your heart.

8. Why did the child with the nosebleed smirk at the end? The priest had a weakness. He did not love all his student and picked on the manipulative boy who bullied others and made wisecracks. Picked on him about his dirty fingernails. All the students deserve to have some love, even those one finds unloveable and coach the bully, the manipulative student, to believe in the power of respect and saying what's true. And that proved to be his Achilles heel. The nun who disliked them all saw the reaction of the one student he did not nurture and treated with dislike, and used that student to brand him guilty for loving a student, whom perhaps she did not find loveable. Understand I am saying with a nurturing love of a parent, an uncle, a teacher.

9. The teacher Nun who inspired the story, I hope. became the teacher she truly was as the priest with all his heart and emotion counseled her to be rather than to be another Sister Aloysius.

10. And I hope Sister Aloysius felt doubt enough times that she became human and did not continue to cross boundaries with parents, her colleagues, and the children. My experience says, unfortunately, that would not be the case. Perhaps, an enjoyable retirement to a place she can't hurt anyone and can simply be nice to those who do not prove a threat to her -- the elderly, the sick.

11. My total lack of doubt might seem extreme, but I always look at the child, and William missed his priest and was heartbroken, according to the teacher. He was not a victim, but lost the only adult whom he knew to believe in him. That's my take on it -- 33 years of teaching -- i.e., being taught, and influenced by adolescents in a society not too different from that of the film. It's not an accident it was set in the 60's when education was under great change from the restrictive, propogandistic, segregated schools it had been for decades, and student teachers were reading Paolo Freire, Jonothan Kozol and others and opening free schools, some of which exist still today, schools in which the children are hugged by all of their teachers.

Forgive me. I'm not proofreading and will probably come back and change this many times. But tonight I came home from the movies and a great conversation which strengthened my faith more than doubt.


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"from Outside the Belly" was also known as "TBAsian" from 2008-2010. Thank you for reading.

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Eugene, Oregon
I am a citizen of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe. I am a Nikkei descendant sansei (third generation);retired teacher, involved in the Winnemem tribal responsibility to Water, Salmon, and our belief that the Sacred is our Teacher. Working locally for human rights and supporting youth leadership.