My good friend, college professor, Dale McCarver wrote this a year ago. It was meaningful to me then. It’s even mor3 meaningful now. Read it. Think about it. Do it. Even if, like me, you don’t agree with every premise.
YOUR OLD ENGLISH TEACHER HAS SOME SUMMER ASSIGNMENTS FOR YOU….
Teaching is one of the handful of professions that has a built-in reset. A school year ends in May and the students, teachers, and staff have a break—a much-needed break.
Some studies suggest kids lose some ground academically over the summer, but I do not favor year-round school. An extended vacation ensures everyone returns in August, rested and with renewed appreciation for the gift—for the privilege—of education in a free society.
Students need summer. Teachers need summer.
And in 2022, our country needs a summer.
I was nine years old in 1968. With little understanding, on our black-and-white, nineteen-inch Motorola, I watched coverage of the deaths of Dr. King, of Bobby Kennedy. I watched the violence both on the streets of Chicago and inside the Democratic convention. I watched the riots. I watched people predict that the United States of 1968 was broken, unrepairable.
Because of the Generation Gap.
Because of Vietnam.
Because of Civil Rights.
Because of Women’s Rights.
Social upheaval threatened to end America, at least the 1950s idyllic America that so many remembered. Or thought they remembered.
But Chicago, Los Angeles, and even Memphis seemed galaxies away to a poor Cheap Hill boy, who never expected to roam much farther than Ashland City.
But now that poor boy from Cheap Hill is an old man. And he knows that events, even far away, can affect him and the ones he loves.
Old friends greet me with a variation of “For the first time in my lifetime, I fear for the future of our country.” We commiserate but have few answers.
Today my country feels like a month before the end of school, but summer’s not in sight. Stress. Anger. Give no quarter. Argue. Compromise is for sissies.
And I worry the center will not hold.
So… before we lose something so precious it cannot be rebuilt, let’s take a summer.
And… because I am a teacher, here are some assignments over the next few months:
Take a week off media.
No Facebook, Twitter. No CNN, FOX, MSNBC, OAN.
On a summer’s eve, sit on the porch or in the yard. Watch the sun go down.
Get an old Coke bottle and collect some fireflies.
Tie a string to the leg of a Junebug.
Watch the sun come up.
And when you return to media, for one week, watch the channels you don’t normally watch. If your TV is always on MSNBC, watch Fox. If you’re always tuned to OAN, watch Anderson Cooper on CNN or Joe Scarborough’s morning show on MSNBC.
Watch not to disagree but to understand.
Take a friend of a different political bent to dinner (some mistakenly call this lunch) or supper. If you voted for Trump, take a Biden supporter. If you’re pro-choice, take a pro-lifer. If you believe the Second Amendment is the most important part of the Constitution, talk to someone who favors gun control.
You have more in common than you think.
Let’s stop using loaded language. People with whom we disagree are our friends and fellow Americans. They are not a “mob.” They are not “radicals.” They are not “leftists,” socialists, Nazis, or communists. We are all “patriots.” The flag belongs to everyone.
Go to church, especially if you rarely go. You may have seen a viral video of a middle-Tennessee preacher calling Democrats demons. Do not believe that he represents truly religious folks. Cheatham County is full of good churches doing God’s work. Go. You probably won’t hear anything political. Visit several churches. You may find one where you feel at home.
If you’re conservative, volunteer a Saturday at a place where you’re likely to rub elbows with liberals: a food bank, an animal shelter, a theater group.
Listen to someone explain his pain. Listen to the prejudice a gay person has endured. Ask a person of color to explain discrimination. Old, white, straight men like me have no idea. But that doesn’t absolve us of the duty to learn, the first step toward empathy.
Talk to a woman who had an abortion. Listen. Ask questions.
Ask a man who owns a lot of guns what the Southern tradition of gun ownership means to him. Go target shooting with him. Ask him to tell you hunting stories about his father or grandfather.
Celebrate someone’s joy. If a gay friend invites you to her wedding, go. If a gay couple adopts a baby, visit. Take a gift.
Laugh with people who are different. Cry with them. Cheer with them. Diversity (always a worthy goal) has emphasized our differences without building on the foundation of our similarities.
And finally, you didn’t think an English teacher was going to let you off without a reading assignment, did you?
1.) Read some history. Learn about the founding of our country. The United States is not a Christian theocracy, though many believe it to be. It is a place where Christians are free to worship and to spread the gospel. But it is also a nation where Muslims and other religions are equally free. And it’s a place where agnostics and atheists are as welcomed and protected as anyone else. The Founders wrestled with the twin goals of establishing a democratic representative republic (majority rule) with full protection of minorities. The second goal is often far more challenging. The Founders left much work to future generations. Women and minorities are far more free today than they were in the summer of 1787, when the Founders met in Philadelphia to craft the Constitution. But our “perfect union” remains elusive. Let’s do our part.
2.) Read some economics. The US is a capitalist economy in a global market. Politicians love to take credit when inflation is low and jobs are abundant. Voters take out their frustrations at the ballot box when inflation is high and jobs are scarce. But—by design—politicians have little immediate effect on prices or jobs. Even in the 1930s, when America’s economy was far less global than today, FDR’s massive New Deal was only marginally successful at pulling the country out of the doldrums of the Great Depression.
3.) Read some junk. Read summer/beach romances. Get lost in a trashy story.
4.) BONUS POINTS: Read a Presidential biography. This spring I read JFK: Coming of Age in the American Century 1917-1956 by Fredrik Logevall. I listened to a lecture series on Teddy Roosevelt and topped that off with one on FDR. You’ll learn about an earlier version of America that survived threats and came out stronger. I finish these books encouraged that we, too, will make it.
Political debate will rage on without us.
For now, let’s summer