Hello from my office,
When we wake up a year from now, the United States will have a new president spending their first full day as the leader of an immensely diverse populace that will have somehow determined that he or she (and at least at the moment that seems to be a distinct possibility) should be trusted to lead us into the next four years. If it were only up to that person, hard to imagine what the country would be (a monarchy or something else with a leader with such power), but there are times it would appear to be more simple. In addition we will elect (or unfortunately it seems, re-elect) the majority of the Congress once again. While I am a strong proponent of exercising my voting duty or responsibility, it is not that difficult to understand why so many people might feel disenfranchised in our current climate. The role of money, the propensity, it seems, to merely work to get reelected versus actually govern, and the increasing sense of a total lack of decorum from the great majority of our national leaders is disconcerting, maddening, and downright disappointing. I must admit that I am not as surprised as I once was when I hear my students say they do not want to pay attention to politics. Yet, when I take the time to step back, perhaps that is exactly what the majority of the asses in Washington want. If we fail to think or pay attention, they can continue to do what they are doing. Jose, it seems once again, you are more correct that I initially give you credit for being. This morning I was speaking with a former student, one to whom I give some credit for being able to think and have some sense of the world around her. When she told me she had no idea of the email issue with Hilary Clinton, I was a bit shocked. There is so much going on to which we all need to pay attention. There is so much that happens in the world that directly affects us, but as Americans, too often, we believe we are above of or immune to. If 911 did not do anything else, it should serve as a profound lesson that such a philosophy is flawed. While I am willing to believe we are certainly one of the most influential and powerful countries on the earth, to believe we are privileged in a manner as such, is short-sighted, foolish, and just plain ignorant. The adage “to whom much is given much is expected” is seemingly apropos. As I write this, it appears that the belief that Donald Trump would somehow stub his toe in a way that will hurt him has certainly not happened. If former Secretary of State Clinton thinks she is a shoo-in for the Democratic ticket, latest polls seem to illustrate that Bernie Sanders has more staying power than she might have thought possible. I have, in my own little world, thought Marco Rubio would be more poised to take control than as happened for the Republicans, and I believe that the Clinton campaign has more potential issues than they might have thought. So what does that say? Simply, I am not sure who will be inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States.
What concerns me more is that I once believed that this person could provide a sense of direction or hope for the average person like me. I honestly believed that when President Obama was elected in 2008. It was the first time I felt passionately about the electoral process. What the last 8 years has proved to me is that the amazing checks and balances system created by the founders of this country hit its limit. The legislative branch of our government is simply obstructionist. They care little about the American people and they are beholden to one thing: getting reelected. The Judiciary seems to be actually live and well. While I do not agree with every decision that has been handed down, there seems to be a reasonable balance of voices and they actually do listen to one another. I am not sure I have always felt that way. I have to think about that some more. The rhetoric of the different branches is something to consider. While this President has been persuasive at times, he has not been nearly as successful at implementing some things that need to happen as I had hoped. First, let me say that I do believe that if our educational system is not broken, it is certainly not working well. I think of the students I had in summer classes and that of 22 only a third of them are back for their second semester of college because they were so underprepared in so many ways, from emotionally to academically, from financially to psychologically. It is devastating to see what I saw in the fall. There is also the consequences of their choices in the long-term. Most have no idea what that semester has done to them. I have noted this before, but it seems we have great intention of offering these opportunities, but there is little that the students understand about the opportunity or how to manage it, and the university is woefully poor at actually doing what is needed. It so frustrates me because I feel we end up, too often, exploiting the student versus helping them. I have spoken with a number of my colleagues across the colleges and departments, so I know that I am not an island in this perception. Again, this gets back to the educational system we have, and it is suspect at all levels, and I say that as part of it. Even when I was in Europe with students during the break. There are certainly some very qualified and good students, but the lack of problem solving skills or critical analysis is frightening to me. I see too many students studying to be teachers themselves and they are mediocre students at best. This does not bode well for what will be coming. Before I sound too negative, I know that I was certainly not a stellar student at one point in my life and it took me a lot longer to mature and figure out things than most. I really do believe I was stunted in this area, and some might argue I still am. I am well aware of my propensity for wanting to see the best in the other and giving them chance upon change and that creates difficulties for me and gets me used. There is certainly a pattern for that. I am learning; it may be slowly, but I am learning.
It is ironic that one of my former summer students came in about an Undergraduate Student Research Appointment and she is looking at some of the very thing I have noted here in this blog. She is a very capable student, but is a student who was told she was less than because she is an ACT101 student. Fortunately she has never accepted that moniker or believed in that stereotype, so she has demonstrated that she is terrifically capable, but she understands the struggle of breaking out or not being limited by the perceptions of being one of “the other.” A blog that I follow here, (quartervida.wordpress.com) addressed some of this in her blog today. I would encourage you to follow her blog as she is a thoughtful and passionate young Latina person from the city. She is worth reading. It is interesting that I have learned so much more about my own culture by trying to see the view points of those who are outside my WASP background. It might be some of the most important learning I have done in my life, a life that is committed to learning. If you read my blogs from a little more than a year ago, I was struggling with trying to understand how to manage this concept because of the struggle I was having with someone so dear to me. I have to give her a great deal of credit for helping me to get beyond my own insecurities and dependencies. It was a painful learning experience for me, but one of the more necessary life-lessons I have probably received in the past 15 years. Tough lessons are always the most difficult, but probably the most important. I wish there was a point where we could say we have learned them all, but I know that is simply not the case. What I do wish is I could offer others more completely the (at least hopefully seen as) wisdom that 60 years have brought to those who are not close to those life experiences as of yet. There is one student in particular that I wish I could help them see some things they do not see. Their heart is the most incredibly kind heart, and there are times they write things that are insightful and demonstrate some really keen ability, but too often they do not put the time into their work that is necessary. Too often they play the helpless or less than brilliant and think that will work. Those things drive me crazy! It perpetuates the stereotypes of too many, and many of those stereotypes are gender specific. During the trip to Europe I saw such a wide array of responses to things. I know that the cultural learning was as important as the academic, and it is certainly the thing that will stay with some of the students a lot longer. It is also the thing that is, perhaps, most important. To understand another person’s culture and history is one of the most important things one can do, and it does not have to mean a trip to Europe, though that is certainly a nice option. I am still processing all of the trip myself, but I know that what it did was whet my appetite once again to travel and learn. That is something of which I could never grow tired. That is not to say that it cannot or is not, at times, exhausting, but the positives so outweigh the negatives.
At this point, I am neck-deep into the new semester and we are only three days in. Amazing how fast it comes. I do think I will be out to eat with a colleague shortly and then I will be back in the office for a few hours yet this evening. It needs to happen and it is already necessary. So . . . while I began wondering what the next year will bring, I cannot consider those things beyond a certain point. I must first consider the rest of the day and manage it. It is neither boring nor predictable beyond a certain point. It is merely another day in my life. I am content, yet harried; I am hopeful, yet anticipatory; I am busy, yet feeling strangely calm. Alanis Morrissette, I am thinking of you and that is ironic.
Thank you for reading as always,