Sifting through the aftermath of Sept. 11
February 4, 2003
For Scott Lukas, the beatnik-looking anthropology chair at Lake Tahoe Community College, one of the biggest challenges in refereeing his discussion class on Sept. 11, 2001, is keeping order.
Lukas began the class — offered for the first time this quarter and perhaps for the last time — wanting to ignite discourse on the terrorist attacks and surrounding issues that bent but did not break a nation unaccustomed to such a homeland blitzkrieg.
“You can’t assume people aren’t interested just because we’re living in Tahoe and isolated and thousands of miles away from New York and the East Coast,” Lukas said. “All people have unique ties.”
About 16 students are in the Monday night class, but 12 appeared for the Jan. 27 session which started in a chemistry room then moved to the nook at the cafeteria. In previous gatherings, the class met at South Tahoe High School and a boisterous Strange Brew coffeehouse.
Inside the cafeteria, which stopped serving at 7:30 p.m., a handful of square tables were put together to make a crude conference table where coffee in styrofoam cups, bottled water and open cans of cola rested.
Norma Young sat at one of the corners listening to the discussion and offering her opinion. For 20 years she was married to an aviator in the Marines. She decided to take the class to check the patriotism among the young.
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“I have been greatly concerned about this segment of my world, knowing how much of their upbringing was left to the television set,” Young said. “I am concerned that they have no sense of family, country or heritage. Add to that the image of violence they have grown up with through all media avenues, that has to have had a dulling if not nullifying effect on their perception of civilization and America.”
Kathryn Haywood, known for providing quotes gathered from places such as “Reggae on the River,” offered a different perspective.
“You can bomb the world to pieces but can’t bomb the world to peace,” she said.
“How do you get all these good quotes?” asked a nearby Lukas to a shrugging Haywood.
Students cited information from National Public Radio, CNN, the Bible, newspapers and news shows. Some, such as Ben Sowers, provided personal stories and experiences. Sowers’ story made heads shake.
While Sowers’ brother was driving his mom’s car, which had a “No War on Iraq” bumper sticker, someone pulled beside the car. The man in the other vehicle, apparently agitated by the sticker and looking for a fight, asked Sowers’ brother if he wanted a war, he’d give him a war.
On a topic regarding the perception of a rather inactive national populace that seems to let the president basically lead them to war, Ben Loughrin believed people, engrossed in pop culture and daily routines, are too busy to take the time to raise their voices against military action.
“We’re too guilty to acknowledge our participation,” he said.
“Our democracy is weak because of general apathy,” Loughrin added.
Steve Goldman, interested in discussing the terrorist attacks and exploring why it happened, pressed his fellow students to practice peace down to its most basic level. After the attacks, Goldman, who was born in New York but grew up in Los Angeles, said he became more active in working for peace and spreading knowledge. He wrote several letters to the Tahoe Daily Tribune and submitted information about the event to schools.
“While the events of Sept. 11 were tragic, and the suffering enormous for the families directly affected, I saw Sept. 11 as a terrific opportunity for Americans to wake up to what is really going on in the world, understanding the effects on other people of our policies and consumption habits, and doing something to change that,” Goldman said. “There is tremendous suffering going on in the world, and in America, and most Americans seem oblivious to it.”
The six-week class was a brainstorm of Lukas’ while he was soliciting college comments about Sept. 11, 2001, for his Library of Congress project.
After the project was over, Lukas filled out some paperwork and began recruiting students for the class.
One such student is Janiene Langford, an anthropology and sociology tutor for Lukas. She took the class knowing there would be progressive thinkers attending and by reading books such as “Jihad versus McWorld” by Benjamin Barber she also knew the type of dialogue that would be involved.
President George W. Bush is often discussed, but in an unflattering light.
“It seems that the majority of the class either is completely against him or at least question his role in our politics in a very skeptical fashion,” Langford said. “His relation to oil is definitely discussed, but unfortunately it seems that none of us really have any new information to bring to the discussion.”
Not much is required for the two-unit special section class. A 30-minute presentation on an issue relating to the terrorist attacks or a paper on how the attack affected the particular student is required, along with attendance.
Unlike other classes, Lukas did not have to call on timid students to speak their mind. Conversation, points and counter-points flowed freely. Lukas sometimes would offer information gained from a media outlet and present it to the group, where hands would fly up. The first hand raised would be called upon, a tough task with many upraised hands belonging to opinionated students who speak their mind.
“I don’t know who’s next,” Lukas said. “I’ve lost control.”
— E-mail William Ferchland at firstname.lastname@example.org