When the founder of economics, Adam Smith, wrote his groundbreaking work about the origins of the Wealth of Nations, it was in response to the political situation of the day. Indeed, since then, the term “political economy” is sometimes used to describe the study of economics, especially as economics relates to politics, which is very often. For example, an economist might search for the optimum tax structure to bring about some political goal, or one might study the economic forces that lead to conflict among nations. I found myself thinking of this connection recently as I worried about the safety of a student I recently taught.
I have spent almost twenty five years as a college teacher of some sorts, teaching as a graduate student, as an adjunct instructor in several places, as a visiting professor, and in the tenure track (twice) before being tenured and eventually earning the rank of Full Professor (not in that order.) In those years, there have been several occasions when my students have helped me see a larger view of the world, and have, through their stories, made the political very personal. I recall the graduate student from Egypt who told my class about his view of the “Arab Spring” as it unfolded; “they are communicating using this thing called ‘Facebook’” he told us as many students giggled. I also remember the woman student from many years ago who introduced me to her wife, whom she married only days before Proposition 8 took effect in California, and my student from Rwanda who asked the college where I worked for prayers for her country as it erupted into civil war. However, the most recent case in which a student made the political personal occurred this summer, as I taught a student in my Statistics class who was taking my class before embarking on a grand adventure to study in a seminary for a year.
When I heard of her plans, I had an immediate memory of myself as a twelve year old girl. I would corner our parish priest whenever he stopped over to visit my parents. “But WHY can’t women become priests?” I would ask him every chance I got. I never did get an answer from him that satisfied my pre-teen frustration with gender roles. And so when I heard that my student (a woman) was to spend a year in a seminary, I was immediately jealous. My other students, however, were more practical, and asked her if she was frightened. She said she was not, but I wonder if they believed her. Because, the truth is, that seminary is in Israel, the center of international conflict this summer.
I don’t know if she made it to Israel in the current international climate, but I hope she did. She had plans to study there one year, and transfer the credits back to a college in the U.S. from which she would earn her degree. I hope that everything worked out as planned, and that she stays safe as she studies abroad this year. As a parent, I wonder what I would think of my own child doing such a thing, and I hope that I would have the ability to let them follow their dreams even if it meant going to dangerous places in the world.
I also think of the people who live in such conflict every day, and have no choice in the matter. I know that each side of the conflict feels strongly about their case, but when I look at the pictures of exploding bombs, I do not see sides, but rather, I think of families. I wonder how women who are mothers and must protect their children in the midst of violence manage to struggle on each day. Palestinian or Israeli, they are taking on the world’s most difficult job in the midst of some of the world’s most chaotic situations. My heart goes out to them, and I hope that the world finds a way to work towards peace.
In the end, I admit that it was not my denomination’s views about what roles men and women should hold that kept me out of the seminary. If I had any talent in foreign languages, I would have probably pursued studies in Theology, perhaps at a seminary. Unfortunately, I find foreign languages very difficult, and so chose an area of study that is more in keeping with my own skills.
Still, as my student left for the summer, I left her with the one Hebrew word of which I was sure, a word that summarized my wish for her and for the world, especially the area of the world where she will spend the next year.