Looking at students’ faces as I was speaking, I could see that only about half were interested. “As Chavez was speaking at the podium, he sniffed the air and said he smelled sulfur. Why would he say that?” I asked.
No hands. Only blank looks. That’s how it is early in the school year. Few of them have any idea of what is going on in the world beyond school. That would take several weeks to change.
“Sulfur is the stuff on a match tip that flares when you strike it,” I said. “Why would Chavez sniff the air during his speech and say he smelled sulfur?” Still no hands, but a few wrinkled their foreheads as they thought about it. “If Bush is the devil as Chavez claims, where would he live?”
“In hell?” asked a girl nervously.
“Exactly,” I said. “In hell where it’s hot? Matches? Sulfur?”
“Oh, I get it,” she said. Others looked at each other and smiled.
“Chavez called Bush the devil yesterday. Today, he’s giving a press conference in Harlem, a section of New York City.” I turned on the classroom television to see Chavez in a bright read shirt sitting in a church and playing awkwardly with a young girl. He was wearing a bright red shirt.” That’s him, right there,” I said. Soon a black man walked over to him and they hugged. “That’s the actor, Danny Glover,” I said.
“He was in ‘Lethal Weapon,’ right?”
“Chavez is also good buddies with Fidel Castro,” I said, “the communist dictator of Cuba.” I walked back over to the wall map and pointed out Cuba. “Chavez says he isn’t a communist, but a socialist,” I explained, “but others claim he is a communist. He’s wearing a red shirt and red is a symbol of communism, but that could just be a coincidence.”
During the first week of school, I passed out a left-right political spectrum chart indicating communists and socialists on the extreme left, Nazis on the extreme right, with Democrats and Republicans on either side of center. Students had to study the chart to determine which political party they agreed with most and which they disagreed with most. Several declared on a test that they disagreed most with the communist party and none agreed with it. That usually changes later in the year when we study communism in more depth. Then, some students think it’s a good thing.
“So, Chavez called President Bush ‘the devil’ or ‘el diablo’ yesterday and he got a lot of applause from representatives of many small nations. What do you think?”
“Do you agree with him? Do any of you think President Bush is the devil?” I asked.
Surprisingly, about six students raised their hands. “Why?” I asked.
“Well, I don’t agree with anything he does,” said a girl.
“Okay, you disagree with him. But does that mean he’s the devil?”
“Well, I don’t really think he’s the devil,” she said. “But I’m angry that he started the war in Iraq.”
“Is that what the rest of you think?” I asked.
“So you don’t actually think he’s the devil either?”
They shook their heads.
The following week, Hugo Chavez went back to Venezuela where he was quoted in a local newspaper claiming that the papers he used on the podium at the United Nations were contaminated because President Bush had used the same podium the day before. Chavez was treating his papers with holy water. He also claimed that President Bush had given orders to have him killed. I printed the article and showed it to students. “It appears that Chavez wasn’t just trying to make a point when he claimed Bush is the devil, but actually believes it,” I said.
“He sounds pretty loopy to me,” said a boy. “How does someone like that become president of a country?”
“At first, he used the military to take over the previous government there,” I explained. “Then he was elected by the people of Venezuela several times.”
“Jeez,” said the boy.