Friday, December 9, 2016
December 9, 2016: Fall 2016 Reflections: Conversations with My Sons
[As another semester comes to a close, I’ll reflect on some of my fall courses and conversations, focusing this time on moments and ways that they were relevant to our own moment. I’d love to hear your Fall 2016 reflections as well!]
On two places and ways I’m talking to and with the boys about America in 2016.
One of my favorite moments from the 2016 campaign (not nearly as long or competitive of a list as my least favorite moments, I grant you, but nonetheless) featured and exemplified my older son’s voice, perspective, and sense of humor. One evening, in the aftermath of the semi-notorious January incident wherein an Iowa protester threw tomatoes at Donald Trump, I shared that story with the boys, with whom I had been talking about the presidential campaign and candidates (and most especially the Cheeto of Doom) for a while by that point. My older son listened to the story and then paused for a moment, cocking his head to the side thoughtfully. Finally, he said only two words: “Fair enough.” Besides being my favorite piece of political commentary in 2016, how can that response not give you hope that the American future is in good hands??
The boys weren’t with me the week of the election, although I did go see them that Wednesday for a much-needed post-election hug. (“It’ll be okay,” my older son said while we hugged, and even in that most immediate and painful aftermath he made me believe.) But in the weeks since, we’ve spent a good bit of time talking about what happened, what’s happening, and especially about the goal of being an upstander rather than a bystander if we witness hateful or discriminatory words or actions (far too many of which have taken place at schools in this fraught and frustrating post-election period). I don’t necessarily believe that “all politics is local,” but I do think there’s great wisdom in another longstanding phrase: “Think globally, act locally.” Even for those of us with grand ambitions to be a public scholar and the like (if you happen to know anyone with such grandiose goals…), the most consistent and meaningful places we can make an impact are those around us: the classroom, the university, book talks, this blog. And I think it’s crucial that I help the boys understand that they have an ability—and a responsibility—to make their own profound impacts on their own spaces and communities, now more than ever. I’m excited to see how much they understand and like that idea.
One of their main communities right now is the elementary school classroom, and I’m also excited to be finding new ways to make my own connections to that vital space. I’ve long taken advantage of opportunities to visit their classes: as a Celebrity Reader, to help with different projects, to chaperone field trips (including one to Plimoth Plantation!). But this fall I’ve decided to take such visits one step further, and to find ways to share some of my AmericanStudies interests and ideas with their social studies units. Today I’ll be visiting my younger son’s class, which is deep in a Native American unit, to talk about young Native American activists both past (such as Zitkala-Ša) and present (such as Santana Jayde Young Man Afraid of His Horses). And in a couple weeks I’ll visit my older son’s class, as they begin a Revolutionary War unit, to share the amazing and influential story of Quock Walker. I don’t know what exactly these American identities and stories will mean to 4th and 5th graders, and that’s precisely the point—just adding to their collective perspectives, whatever that might mean for their understandings and ideas as they move into their own American lives and futures. Just because they already give me hope for the future doesn’t mean I don’t have a role to play in that arc as well!
Spring preview this weekend,
PS. What do you think? Reflections you’d share?