A student ran to me this morning and explained, "Mr. Johnson, someone wrote something really mean on our plog."
I looked at the margins and read the long, convoluted, well-educated rhetoric against immigrants. "Cheaters, border hopers, criminals," next to well-reasoned explanations on the dangers of urbanization and the reduction of wages with the huge influx of cheap labor. For what it's worth, I don't think they were referring to "hope" in writing "hopers," but I could be wrong.
"We're Irish, yes, but American too. We're not illegals. Not any more illegal than anyone else who came here to take land from the Indians. We just came here to work." she tells me.
I pulled out my pencil and erased the marks; forever wiping out the anonymous comment from the public memory of the event. I am the Editor, the Censor who must decipher between mean-spirited attacks and passionate criticism.
So, I asked the students if we should allow anonymous comments.
"People hide when they are anonymous. They attack, because it is a surprise attack. It's secret."
"It's like the KKK. They cover themselves in a white sheet, spout out hate and they don't have to be transparent." A bit of an extreme metaphor, I admit, but I could see his point.
"I think we should allow people to be anonymous. At least it's honest when they do that. So, people hate the Irish. At least this way we know it. No one is pretending."
The debate continued for awhile until a student said, "I think it's hypocritical for us to require people to state their first and last name and yet we post our work with just our first names."
"We do that to protect you. Remember, employers can go back and search public records. It's all part of your public footprint."
A boy added,"I know that, Mr. Johnson. But shouldn't that be exactly what we want people to see? Okay, so imagine someone takes a photograph of me drinking at a party or entering a burlesque theater and I get hired by a member of the Temperance Movement. That can be real damaging if they find that on the pen pal networks. So, why not let them see the good side of me? Why not let them see that since sixth grade I have been doing community service and I have cared about conservation?"
It has me thinking about anonymity. Perhaps no one should be anonymous in pencil postings. Perhaps the veil we wear in plogs and pen pal networks can work both ways - hiding the good and allowing us to commit acts of cruelty without facing consequences.