The "S" Word

Some of you who have followed my previous blogging attempts in the past may be familiar with this piece.  And yes, I do realize that it’s cheating the whole GaBloWriMo goal.  But, I did spend five hours last night working on an essay and that makes me feel slightly (just slightly) justified.  Plus, it’s early in the day and I may still write and post something new on here…you never know.  

I’d like to, slowly, get my old CNF experiments up here for those who haven’t read them and to keep a record of the journey.  This piece was written in the spring of 2009.  I was teaching a survey course in American lit titled, The American Dream: Myth or Reality?  It was also the very beginning of my experimentation with CNF.  Enjoy!



I hear the word come out of my mouth and immediately, as if the bomb itself has been dropped in the middle of the acrylic covered desks that are jammed tightly into this basement classroom, my students’ bodies stiffen. Their eyes narrow ever so slightly. Did she just say the “S” word?

We are completing our discussion of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. It’s impossible to discuss the novel without the inevitable mention of the “S” word. But I am careful with them. After all, it’s not their fault they’ve been told that all other forms of governance are evil and designed to strip away their God Given Rights. Never mind that they exercise those rights loosely. Freedom of speech is okay as long as we’re not overheard criticizing our government. Freedom of religion is okay too – so long as we’re keeping a watchful eye on Those Damn Muslims. But it’s not their fear of the “S” word that disturbs me.

“This book is depressing,” says a girl in the back whose name I have not yet memorized.

“Why does Sinclair have to make it so depressing?”

I tell them literature chronicles society’s past and ask where we see this kind of corruption in our society today. The room is heavy with silence. One young woman, sitting safely in the back of the room, tentatively raises her hand. Her response is more of a question than an assertion.


My smile and nod is enough affirmation to encourage a slew of hands. Law enforcement. Health care. Professional athletics. The War. This last one is met with nervousness. They all immediately turn to me, scanning my face for reaction.

“Yes,” I say. “Yes. These are all wonderful examples of modern day corruption.”

Then Patrick, one of the many basketball players in this class, speaks up:

“Yeah, but what can we do about it?”

It’s not really a question. He isn’t looking for ideas on how to organize, to start a movement, to petition government. The answer he already knows is evident in the faces of everyone around him. They look me squarely in the eyes, Yeah Doc, what do you have to say about that? And I give them the spiel about groundswell movements that shaped our world – Women’s Suffrage, the Civil Rights Movement, the organized protests against the Vietnam War. Maria raises her hand.

“It’s like what happened after 9/11. We all came together then, didn’t we?”

Their varied expressions shift. They suddenly look incredibly vulnerable.

“Yes,” I say quietly. “Yes, we did.”

And I see that I was wrong. It’s not the addition of this new “S” word they fear. It’s the loss of so many other “S” words. Safety. Security. Society. Sanctity. They look for them tentatively, hesitantly. They sit utterly motionless, a nation defeated. Dan cocks his head to the left.

“So… is this gonna be on the test?”

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