Ten years ago, the war in Iraq began and at the time, I was taking conversational French classes. Two nights a week our teacher led us in discussions about a wide variety of topics: Americans are stupid; George Bush is stupid; plus, he's as bad as Saddam; also he's as bad as Hitler; really, he is; no, seriously.
As a supporter of the war, I spent those classes fighting with everyone else, although at least I did it in excellent French. Even my teacher -- who, I'm quite certain, hated me -- admitted as much, telling me one night that my French was so good I could serve on a French jury. But not if it were a jury trying George Bush for war crimes, because I was too blinded by my neocon-imperialist-civil-society-fetishizing-weak-selection-of-cheeses worldview to see the truth.
Between then and now, I have experienced many other such fun times. Listing them all would be exhausting for me (though potentially hilarious for you readers, as some involve my romantic adventures). My favourite had to be in 2006, when I was barred from a book club run by a university professor "friend" who told me that she had read one of my columns supporting the war and no longer felt I was a "good fit."
It was deeply tragic, as it meant I was not able to spend two afternoons a month that summer talking about Eat, Pray, Love with a bunch of women. Oh, what I missed.
I understand being anti-war and I also understand being opposed to the war in Iraq. What I don't understand is the lack of diversity, true diversity, in places of learning and among teachers at all levels.
Walk into any Canadian university or community college or even a high school and you will see all colours and religions and sexual orientations, which is as it should be. But there won't be great diversity of thought or opinion, at least not openly expressed. And expressing a different view exposes you to a point and scream similar to that scene in The Invasion of the Body Snatchers when Donald Sutherland exposes Veronica Cartwright as a non-pod person.
Diversity, in other words, is easy enough to find at a superficial level, but not where it counts. And it isn't just about matters of war and weaponry.
I've been studying Italian for a couple of years, and spent a month last fall taking intensive courses at a university in Umbria. I love Italians and I love Italy, so it is with enthusiasm that I attend my classes.
Last November, our teacher asked us what we thought of the ruling that temporarily removed Toronto Mayor Rob Ford from office. She quickly added, "without talking about your opinion of Ford."
Oh yes, because that will be possible, I thought. It wasn't. It almost came to blows. By the end of the class, I had traumatized one of my classmates with this shocking admission: "I don't think bike lanes are all that important." I have heard that the poor woman is still in counselling.
I suspect there was an assumption made by our teacher that we all disliked Ford. I think such assumptions are frequently made in academic settings. And I think once you set yourself apart, another assumption is made: that what you think about virtually everything can be easily predicted.
Along those lines, my aforementioned French teacher paid me a compliment - of sorts - in the summer of 2003, when he saw an article I had written in support of gay marriage. He approached me after class one night, a look of complete mystification on his face, saying that my views represented a "very open mind" - something he could scarcely fathom I might have. "But you are..." He didn't finish the sentence, but I knew what he wanted to say.
And it wasn't, "Thank you for bringing diversity to my classroom."