A Voice of Reason: Sane Views for a Crazy World

March 14, 2007

America’s Role Towards the Nations

Extra Credit Assignment: Read the Assigned Article and Compare to other articles you have read.  Then, write a persuasive essay outlining: “What Role Should the United States Government Take In the Affairs of Other Nations” 

This appeared on the blackboard today for my middle school students.  This was not for Social Studies, although it is the subject I teach most of the day.  It was for Language Arts.  You see I don’t make a divide between most subjects, and they all tend to blend in to the other.  Remember, I am a Constructivist as a teacher.  Another thing that I know is that you teach who you are.  I have an interest in government, foreign policy, and am probably much like you with regard to my feelings about the appropriate role that the US should play in formation of policy.  I love working with teens, and when I have been asked on interviews, I am in transition from teaching to principalship, about my philosophy, my first statement is to develop knowledge and a sense of civic responsibility in students to build in them the capability of being informed active citizens within a democratic Republic.  My kids know it too.  Many of our days are spent analyzing and opining about various situations in our nation and the world.  It’s hard not to reveal my own political bent, as so much of me would want to frame them, but I realize that the discussion and their own perspectives will create in them a more genuine base of knowledge as they arrived there themselves.

Our class-think sessions are usually high spirited.  There is nothing like the infectious idealism of young teens with regard to perceived social injustices.  If the issue is animal adoption, they all want to “bring love to their home”.  If it is the plight of kids from Katrina, they want to organize and send goods to a charitable organization.  If the issue is the endangerment of a rare animal, they intuitively respond with empathy and understanding that the extinction of a unique member of planet is something that concerns them.  Parts of our weekly reading assignments are articles which focus on children their age in faraway places.  Often these articles have a bent, and it is a slight leaning towards the left side, and typically focuses on the difficulty faced by a particular group of people in a part of the world they may not be familiar with.  Over the past month my students have been introduced to young Chinese, Peruvians, and Kenyans all undergoing the transitions of their culture within a context of a world changing rapidly about them.  We also focus on the realities of the world.  How by the luck of the draw, they were born into arguably the wealthiest nation in political, economic and spiritual terms.  They also do understand that they didn’t choose where they were born.  It was a combination of the thousands of unions which have occurred through history, which all had to occur when they did and the end result is they.  I think that this has given them an understanding of their unique position in history.  To my female students I often address them with my “Your Sister’s Speech”.  While we may not all agree on the glass ceiling facing females, issues which may or may not impair women’s role in society, the women of this generation in this nation enjoy a place in history never imagined by their forebears.  My challenge to these young women is to remember that they represent in many ways the hopes of all their ancestors, and they are accountable to them.  I find that most of the young ladies are listening intently during this pep talk.

I look forward to hearing the voices of my learners.  I hope that they are a bit muddled, and a bit unclear, not knowing where they should turn.  This is together an appropriate outcome, that they not be sure how they stand on this issue.  That is simply because there is truth to both sides of any thesis they can form.  At times, and through raising certain points, there has been created a group of Isolationists that want to build a wall 20′ high around the nation, and not let a soul or voice in our out.  The “Minuteman” part of me likes that.  At other times our class discussions resemble that of the wildest fantasies of the Peace Corps wrapped around a Neo-Conservative agenda of
America the agent of democratization of the world.  The Bobby Kennedy/George W. Bush, and if you get what I am saying, you truly get it, part of me likes that part.

Dante wrote, “In the middle of the journey of our life I came to myself in a dark wood, where the straight way was lost.”  Children get that statement, and so do rational adults when they realize that there are no easy answers to complex problems.  That we as human beings are torn between conflicting ideas of truth and justice, and what is truly the American way. 

When I contemplate that close to one million human beings died in the most awful of ways in Rwanda little more than a decade ago, close to 10% of that population, and the United States, the most powerful nation in the world could have stopped it by sending a brigade of soldiers to keep the peace, I am forced to ask myself “WHY”.  Yet, when I hear or see a family torn apart by the reality of the death of a son, a husband, a father, a brother for a place in the world where our efforts may not be fully appreciated, I at times shake my head and say to that individual tragedy, “WHY”.   I am still going to be a good teacher, and not tell you fully how I feel, however, I have often said to my students that if they think about it, if they know who I am, they will know my answer.  It won’t be due to anything I have said, or by subtly trying to brainwash my students, which I would find one of the worst thing a teacher could do towards the taught.  However, the manner in which I deal with them, others and the way I approach their concerns let them know me very well.  I work on a team with other colleagues, and every year we give an elective class in literature, and never tell who is teaching which book.  More than once, a student has said to me, I knew you would be teaching this book, it’s you.  I wonder how many knew and picked the other book! 

However, you may feel about this and about other issues can’t be taken away from who you are at your deepest self.   This question can also be changed to any other responses.  What is America’s role towards those worst effected by poverty, by those who suffer the ravages of no hope, due not so much for their own actions or lack of actions, but because they happened to be born, poor, in a country ravaged by famine, in the ghettos of America, in the wake of a family tragedy.  Conflicting emotions all add up to the straight way being lost, and if some well meaning person says that faith is the answer, tell that to someone who has lost a child due to an infection where any of us would go to a doctor, likely pay a $20 co-payment, and be well the next day.  Trite expressions in the face of reality are meaningless and insult the context from where they came.

How you answer your homework will tell you a great deal about yourself.  However, you are not allowed to make overuse of authoritative quotes.   As I would tell my students, any thought worth having comes from within your own head.  I promise I will mark on a curve. 

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2 Comments »

  1. Very good assignment. Requires a lot of thought.

    Didn’t know you were a teacher, but now see that it shows. Thank you for your service. I’m sure you don’t hear that often enough.

    I’m very curious about your teaching. Email me offline (or post here) some details. What grade(s) do you teach? I see social studies, what elective do you teach? What book did you (most recently) use?

    One of the people who most impact my life was my high school history teacher. World History, then US History, then an elective called “History of the South” (He signed me up for that one – I didn’t have a choice). I disagreed with him on almost every paper, at least all the ones I remember. But he made me think.

    He’s since retired and runs a toy store. Not sure if that’s a change, but he seems to enjoy it. I hope he knows just a little of the impact he had on me and on my class-mates.

    Comment by Randy — March 15, 2007 @ 3:31 pm | Reply

  2. I don’t mind telling you here.
    I teach middle school, but may not be for long. I have interviewed for a principal’s position and am in the second round, and have three other interviews next week, for two principalships and an Asst. Principal’s position. I also have three or four other schools which have told me that I will be asked for an interview.

    I also teach ELA and a special Reader’s workshop course for middle school kids. We are reading Jean Merril’s “The Pushcart War”, which deals with issues about the nature of war, and the interactions of different cultural and economic elements in society.

    I also make great use of magazines for the students in reading and ELA class, most of them are younger versions of Newsweek and Time.

    Right now my classes are working on making a magazine – similar to the ones we use – but writing about Ancient History. So far the three classes have constructed three magazines with about 30 articles and five to ten activities, map reading, word searches, puzzles, timelines etc. We’ll be doing something different for Ancient Greece. The plan is to have each student read and deconstruct a myth. Then they will look for images that match the major themes and portions from the myth they want to emphasize. Hopefully, the end result will be an electronic book with about 65 stories graphically represented within a Powerpoint framework.

    Should be fun, and lots of work….for them 🙂

    Comment by avoiceofreason — March 15, 2007 @ 9:28 pm | Reply


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