Good early morning,
It is shortly after 5:00 a.m. and as is typically the case, or so it seems, I am awake and my brain is racing along with possibilities than what seems reasonably conceivable to me. What is reasonable might be the first question to ponder. As I get up most mornings, or more accurately awaken, I read three to five different news sources, from ones referred to by “my” President as “fake news” to the one that should be called “the President’s friends.” Why might you ask? Because I think I need to listen to a variety of voices and then decide where I stand. One does not think critically unless challenged to do so. As I work with more than 70 freshmen writing students this semester, it becomes more and more apparent to me (and this is my own opinion) that our public school system is in dire straits. We are not teaching students to think critically; we are not teaching them to think beyond the obvious and analyze the learning situation; and finally we are not teaching them how to connect their learning to something else they are learning or to make connections across disciplines and situations. We seem content to teach them to memorize or to learn to jump hoops to manage the standardized test that somehow demonstrates they are capable. The consequence is students who are very nice and want to do well, but the tool box they have from which to draw their tools or skills is pretty sparse.
Yet, I find myself conflicted. Certainly we have a requirement as their professors. We are to take what comes to us and prepare them academically, socially, and critically to enter a world that is in a most precarious position (again, my opinion). The current fight between the reality of globalism and the somewhat knee-jerk reaction of nationalism (or nativism as it was called this past week) has two incredibly powerful philosophical ideas of what we how we are to proceed to manage this complex world that is interdependent, whether we like it or not. I have witnessed this not merely here in the United States, but when I was in Ireland last year the Brexit vote was in process. When I have been in Hungary or Poland, or read about some of the neighboring countries, the struggle to become an accepting world of the other versus keeping to ourselves is dramatically apparent around the globe. Just today in Egypt there is news of difficulties; Turkey has had its own issues and some of my former colleagues from Wisconsin have been affected by that. Students in our universities are unsure of their status because of issues in their own countries or the third iteration of a travel ban, which has been challenged again by Hawaii. What is the world we are preparing our students to enter? How do we understand it? What does our obsession with technology and how it is being used as evidenced on an almost daily basis done to how we understand ourselves, our world, or what we can believe to be real or truthful. The irony of the revelation that the Trump family themselves posted information from the Russian infiltrators, which was genuine fake news, did not go unnoticed by me or many others. The overwhelming propensity to jump on anything posted and use it within our own context or for our own partisan viewpoint has made anything posted suspect. What are the consequences?
The consequence is there is no trust. There is no decorum. There is little possibility for a national conversation, or forget national, even interpersonal one-on-one conversation with someone with whom you might have some fundamental difference in opinion (please note I merely said opinion). We cannot seem to have any opportunity to discuss most anything because we have to win; we have to prove we are right. The consequence is a fragmentation beyond anything I have witnessed in my life. And yet, I am that American child. What does that mean to me? It does mean I had opportunities that many in the world did not, and still do not, have. Even though I was on a third family by the time I was less than 5; even though my biological parents were probably not the most suited to be parents; even though I struggled as an adopted child for many reasons I have laid out in earlier blogs, I had opportunities many others did not have. What I know now, as I am older and as I noted there is more of my life behind me than ahead of me, is there have always been people who were kind enough to lend me a helping hand, people caring and generous enough to offer me opportunities that would not have been available without their help. I di grow up in a time that even blue-collar, poorer kids on the Westside of Sioux City, Iowa believed in possibilities. We believed in that American dream, and I am quite sure that most of our parents hoped we might have opportunities for success that went beyond what they had experienced. I have often said that I innately understood that my parents wanted me to go to college, but they did not know how to help that occur. They thought it mean merely get good grades, but even then they were not sure what constituted good grades. I think more they saw good grades as scholarships because they did not have the money to help me get to college. In fact, they had no idea what the cost was. I remember many years later (almost 10) when I was a senior in college finally and my mother could not understand why I had to work or seemed to be broke all of the time. When I told her how much it cost me per credit hour to take classes, she told me I was lying. When I showed her the costs, her response in utter disbelief was, “How can you afford to do that?” My response was, “How can I afford not to do that?” Costs back then are a mere fraction of what students are paying now. The investment in education is astronomical, and the competition for a position after college is certainly more extreme.
Yet, most of my students believe in that dream . . . I believe the dream is a bit more difficult to imagine for students today. I believe the dream is a bit more illusive, but is that a good thing or a bad thing? That, I believe, depends on the person. When the dream is more illusive because of one’s social economic class it saddens me; when the dream is more illusive because of someone’s birthplace or status, the color of their skin or their gender, their sexual identity, it causes me pause because then the dream is limited to the few and in contrary to whom I was raised to believe we are as a country of opportunity. Again, before you want to jump on a particular bandwagon, I am not trying to stand in opposition to our laws or points that seem to be touch-points for argument. I could certainly argue that I am one of those who had to work much more intentionally to make my way out of a blue collar neighborhood. Again, before you think I do not respect the trades or unions, you have not read much of what I have written about my journey electrician father or older brother, or two nephews. You are not aware of my summer jobs working in packing plants, co-op fertilizer elevators, harvesting wheat, waiting tables or bartending for 2o years. As I write this I am sitting in a Starbuck now, in Chantilly, VA, guests of yet another culture of people who have blessed me. Egyptian/Sudanese and as I have watched the people coming in an out I have seen Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Arabic, Black, and I am probably the minority. Those things actually do not frighten me, they give me hope.
What I believe being an American child gave me was hope. It allowed me to dream of possibilities and options. It allowed me to be proud of a country that seemed to be a beacon of hope not just for an adopted middle class small boy from NW Iowa, but for the rest of the world. My first trip to Europe as a student, as I have noted before, allowed me to see the world as a place to learn, a place to explore and realize how the centuries of history in the Vatican, in Aachen, Lubeck, or Copenhagen had a connection to what I was learning in Blair, Nebraska. What I realized in that trip, which was the consequence of the generosity of Harold and Dorothy Wright, was the world was a walking history book that need to be absorbed and learned. As I have been blessed to be on the other side now and take students to Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Germany, Austria, and Slovakia this time is to realize how much Central and Eastern Europe has to offer to my understanding of our changing world. I have mentioned more than once, I am not sure I had any idea what the future would hold for me, and even at this advanced age, I am not sure. What I do know is it has been quite a journey and one that I do believe being the American child offered me a sense of perspective and opportunity I might not have had. Because of the generosity of a little tornado, I am able to now help others. I am able to offer opportunities that go beyond what I knew at that age. It is ironic that it was not an American native, but one who came to America to continues to bless me so I can bless others. Amazing how life works . . . but it continues to do so. With that, I offer this video.
As always thanks for reading.
Dr. Martin (that Riverside child)