I have taken and seen many images of my country, and specially my city and my university during this long political crisis but for me, perhaps none is as painful as the one I choose for this entry: a picture of an empty classroom with all the desks thrown outside, taken at UCAB on Nov, 2nd. It's the way the students from the White Hand Movement or some of them express their anger or frustration in front of the government reaction to the initiatives of the movement against it.
And you can really feel that frustration when you get down the stairs, go through the hall and find those desks speaking for the students that should be receiving classes.
They can tell you about the drama of a generation that just put the studies in second place, because they might not see any point of studying inside a crashing country. When you have just finished your student years inside that crisis and you get way too soon at the other side of the river by working as an assistant professor (which makes you part a professor, more than a student); you cannot feel but an unspoken desire of picking up all those desks and calling all the students back to class even if you know that the biggest lessons of life are happen to be outside at the moment and the books gives only consolation to a few geeks, like this blogger but not to all.. that’s for sure.
So, now comes the story for real...
On Thursday 8- 11- 2007; I had a session scheduled with my students: we had to review the last four chapters of a book of whom I have to make an exam to them in just two weeks. I called the delegate of the classroom and he told me like nothing “I’m not going to class tomorrow, and my friends are not going either…”
Then I decided not to be guided just by a first year student and call another friend to ask her about the situation at the university “Well, no one is inside the classrooms, we are at the streets, not exactly blocking an entrance but given some pamphlets to the people that pass by… oh and there’s an assembly later” I know that only a miracle will allow me to give the class, and I’m also aware that a big part of my students will probably refuse to enter the class.
After all, just the day before, the events at another university (the most important one): UCV, concerned public opinion worldwide. Usually, after a student demonstration, the people just walk back to their universities. So the students of UCV did this and when they entered their campus, they met an unfriendly Chavista (Chavez supporter) group. The events after this encounter are rather confusing: gunshots, violence from both sides, explosions, fire and some scared people who were not part neither of the student demonstration, neither of the Chavista group; simply trapped in the middle. The results: at least eight people wounded by gunfire – according to the sources I’ve been reading, they all were UCV students (if you speak Spanish, read a first hand letter-report here).
So there I was, the morning after, asking for permission to leave the work a couple of hours and taking the subway with the Peter Berger’ “Invitation to sociology” book pretending to ignore everything, pretending that I can actually give a class as it were any other day. As soon as I get down the subway and start walking inside the campus I met with some second year students – “Do you guys think I’m going to be able to give a class today?” – I ask them and they look at me like saying “Do you think you live in Sweden or what?”
They are right: a crowd of the students are filling the campus gardens trying to listen to some improvised speakers settled in the middle. Definitely an assembly, but one so crowded that could not take place at the Aula Magna (our main auditorium).
So without even trying to get to the classroom where I was supposed to give a class, I took a step back till the subway again remembering all the stuff I had to do back at work now with the time I missed. Sitting in the train, I got distracted with my mix of thoughts and feelings that the word “frustration” crowns always as a headline. “I should have at least entered to the classroom and wait for the students, even if they never show up”… “I should have go to the social science school to say that at least I went to the university”… “I should have called more students”… “Well, If the social reality is hitting us so strongly, right at the campus, right at our faces; what can I teach them on class about social control mechanism or the structures of power that they do not experience daily?”… “Maybe this is was a coward exit, I should have try to give the class… after all I also suspended last week class because of another student demonstration…”
I open the book I should be speaking about to 30 students while the subway is taking me away of the university instead and those 30 students are somewhere in the middle of the campus, running from the police or just sleeping at home because they suspect the classes are suspended even if not officially.
I smile at the third line of the page 100 where the author says that he will stop giving examples about countries living under tyranny because most of the men, “the author included and most of the readers of this book”, live in a way that their social situation is just defined by a certain number of rules the have to obey without any further complications like the ones a totalitarian regime impose – “Well, certainly not this reader” – I write in one corner
That night, back home, I started writing a mail to my students explaining, just to keep the formal protocol; why I didn’t show up at class. My goal was to explain to them how important is to have this class, the relevance of the books, and the exam they have scheduled about it; that I want them to sacrifice one protest (or maybe show up late) and I will try to make the class shorter or something.
Then I got distracted writing the possible exceptions to my propose “If there are riots inside the university, the highways are blocked, or we can hear gunshots” – Then I realize how alarming is to write that paragraph and I quickly erase it. It took me more than one hour to write a simple 10 lines long email.
So I realize that just after finishing my career on very confusing circumstances; I have to make the work probably a lot of intellectuals quite brighter and smarter than me (Peter Berger is like the superman of sociology of religion and I’m just a poor undergraduate) didn’t ever had to: to make those text coherent with the hard reality my students faces. This time I ran away taking the subway instead of the blackboard marker. Maybe some other day I’ll do better. But still I have no idea how.