Reflections on We the People

For the past week, I have been volunteering at my old elementary school. My old fifth grade teacher reached out to me to, once again, help with the We the People Competition, which is organized by the Center for Civic Education. In short, this competition has five teams focusing on a series of questions about civics and constitutional governance. When I was in fifth grade, I participated in this competition which began my interest in politics and government. To be able to go back to my old elementary school and help students learn about civics and constitutional governance is something that I am proud to be able to do.

Yet, more importantly is the place that this program has in the American educational system. No other program, to my knowledge, has the ability to promote critical thinking, constitutional understanding, and an appreciation of history and current events. I participated in this program when I was a fifth grader, and once again as a twelfth grader. Each time, my passion for government, civics, and history grew. Ultimately, this passion for government, civics, and history had me attend the James Madison College at Michigan State University, where I earned my Bachelor of Arts in Political Theory and Constitutional Democracy.

My peers who were involved in the program with me are now doing all sorts of things with their careers, but we all are still civically involved and pay attention to current issues. That lasting influence that the We the People program has on its students is impressive, even more impressive than the fact that most of us could rattle off court cases that greatly influence our civil rights today (Lawrence v. Texas and Texas v. Johnson have a fond place in my heart due to their multiple influences on civil rights).

Yet, our federal government so often cuts funding for the We the People program, endangering the program. I have not heard any movements to defund the program as of yet, but this program is one of the few federal programs that seems to work and has an important role to play in our educational system.

Going back to the last week, I have worked with fifth graders on complex questions and seen them begin to grapple with these issues in a way that is beyond their fifth grade status. Working with one student on understanding judicial review (and McCulloch v. Maryland) was a challenge, but ultimately the student understood the role judicial review plays in our national policy discourse, and developed on opinion on the role judicial review should play.

This program will always have a special place in my heart because of its promotion of critical thinking and civic-mindedness. If you see this program in your area, you should take a minute to volunteer or go to the hearings and see what this is all about.

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Teaching Discourse

Part of my morning ritual is to turn on the news and watch a half hour of CNN, just to get caught up on the days events. For the most part, this is a helpful aspect of my morning ritual, yet all too often there is a segment or two that devolves into two guests shouting at each other. The shouting is mind numbing, not because it is early in the morning but because the shouting commenced because the two individuals have no respect for one another and a hatred of facts. The shouting matches are ever more disturbing each time I watch them, because they all follow the same script. The loss of a respect for ideas and varying viewpoints is troubling, particularly as our nation grapples with issues that require thoughtful and solution focused policy.

The educator in me finds this rather troubling. In my own experience working with collegiate students, I find the same troubling lack of respect for different ideas. My own hope as an educator is to expose my students to multiple perspectives on a given topic and to allow them to interrogate those perspectives in a civil and critical manner. Yet, the students I have worked with go to their basic instinct which is to simply criticize and wright off a perspective from which they disagree. It took most of the fall semester to get 20 first year students in a leadership course to be comfortable with critically investigating an idea that they disagreed with.

This critical interrogation of ideas is missing from our society. Looking at our political climate, there is a dualistic, ‘with-us-or-against-us’ mindset that permeates through todays political climate. There are some bipartisan efforts being worked on, but those are few and far between. As a society, we seem to have lost the basic respect for our peers and a desire to move forward together by finding consensus.

For educators, reteaching this respect for different view points and critical interrogation (which I view as the act of analyzing and discussing an idea) is critical to the work being done in and outside the classrooms. Students need to be okay with engaging in ideas that they may seem detestable because when they are in the ‘real world’ and outside the comforting walls of the classroom, they will be forced to work with ideas and perspectives that they may disagree.

How do educators reteach respect for different view points and critical interrogation is beyond me. There is no ‘perfect’ solution, but the themes and values embedded in those two ‘soft skills’ are essential to the survival of the Republic in which we live and the health of public discourse.

Waiting

There is something positive to be said about having almost two months off between jobs. I finished my contract at Miami University on May 20th and will start at my new position at Virginia Tech on July 13th. I looked forward to this time off to get my life in order, see friends and family, and recharge after working through my graduate program for two years.

Yet, as I sit in this liminal state, I cannot help but feel restless. Just a few short weeks ago, I was feeling restlessness as I went through the ritual of commencement. In some respects, this restlessness is to be expected for a newly anointed master of student affairs. Yet, that restlessness is tiring.

I spend my mornings going through a ritual of turning on the news, drinking a cup of tea, and making breakfast. This ritual is important, as it adds structure to a time filled with anything but structure. Lately, that ritual has been filled with responding to emails from my future employer about my placement or notes of welcome. The restlessness to move to Blacksburg and start my new position is starting to get to me, and I am in only my second week of my break.

It helps to know that the restlessness I am feeling is natural and one that my peers across the country and undoubtedly feeling. Yet, the desire to get up and get started with my next position hangs over me like a heavy cloud. The possibilities that wait for me at Virginia Tech are numerous and have the rose colored glasses to make the impending transition seem incredibly exciting and without trouble. The next five and a half weeks are going to be filled with restlessness and the desire to get started. How I stay grounded in this liminal state is important to the enjoyment that I can get.

Best of luck to all who are feeling similarly as they wait for their new beginning.

Coming Home

US-127 and I-96 come together to the southwest of East Lansing, Michigan. The dial of the radio has been tuned to the well known Lansing area radio stations, and instinctively I merge right onto US-127 north for Clare. Almost immediately I am at the East Lansing exit. I exit US-127 and enter East Lansing, Michigan.

It has been some time since I have been in East Lansing; almost six months which has been the longest time I have spent away from campus since I moved here in August 2010. For four years of my life, East Lansing and Michigan State University were more than a temporary residence and an institution of higher learning. Michigan State and East Lansing became my home. It was where I first learned to live on my own, have a roommate, and began the long and arduous journey into adulthood. The four years I spent in East Lansing and at Michigan State were ‘transformational,’ or whatever other cliche you want to insert. Yet, that well worn cliche is true.

Now that my car is turning onto Trowbridge road, it feels as if I am returning back home to the comforts that I knew for four years. This feeling of coming home is vastly different than the one I feel when I return to Howell, my childhood home and where my parents still live. The feeling I get when I see the ‘Welcome to East Lansing – Home of Michigan State University’ signage is one of pride and nostalgia. My four years at Michigan State were incredible, and during the tough days that was graduate school I would wish, only slightly, that I could return to those better days.

Three days ago I left Oxford, Ohio and Miami University. The feeling was vastly different than when I left Michigan State University two years ago. While I was sad that I would no longer be with my cohort, friends, and faculty, it was not at all like the feeling I had when I left. And that’s okay. For me, the time I spent at Miami University were just as transformational and filled of learning. Yet, that growth and transformation pale in comparison to that which occurred at Michigan State.

The pride I feel when I tell people that I have a degree from Michigan State University is one that will carry with me for the rest of my life; the feeling I will get when I tell people I have a degree from Miami University will not be connected to the institution, rather the program that I studied in. Maybe that is normal, but it is something that I have been thinking on as I drive through campus.

No matter how much campus has changed in my two years away, I feel a strong connection to Michigan State and the home that I built here. As I transition out of Michigan and the Midwest for Virginia and the South, I will miss the easy access I had to Michigan State and East Lansing. For now, though, I am going to enjoy the time I have at home.

Restlessness at Commencement

J4816 2016 Spring Commencement Yager Stadium
2016 Spring Commencement Yager Stadium- Photo Credit: Ricardo Trevino Jr. Photography

Saturday May 14th 2016 I, along with my cohort, graduated from Miami University. It was a cold and blustery day on that Saturday afternoon. The chill was more akin to early November, not mid-May. Yet, we sat through the ceremony eagerly awaiting our opportunity to walk across the stage, shake the President’s hand and know that we completed two years of hard work and are no longer Masters Candidates; we are Masters.

As I sat through the University Commencement, I saw myself reflecting on my time at Miami University. It was a strange feeling, knowing that I was done studying (for now) and would no longer be taking courses; I would be working a full time job in just a few short months. That excitement (and anxiousness) was palpable among my peers. Yet, I also felt drastically different than when I graduated from Michigan State University with my Bachelor of Arts.

Two years ago when I walked across the stage in the Wharton Center for Performing Arts, I was filled with immense pride, joy, and nostalgia. I had completed something that no one in my family before me had; I was the first to attend, graduate, and complete my studies at an institution of higher learning. I knew I was going to attend graduate school by my commencement ceremony at Michigan State, and I knew I would be leaving behind friends that became family. It was a bittersweet moment to be sure.

Two days ago, when I walked across the stage at Yager Stadium, I was filled with restlessness and pride. The feelings were strikingly different than when I walked a similar path two years prior. My time at Miami University was a good one; I developed friendships that are akin to a family unit, I learned a great deal, (both personally and professionally), and once again accomplished something that no one in my family prior to me had done: attended, graduate, and complete my studies in graduate school. Once again, I knew where my life would take me in my next chapter. But the feeling of nostalgia and joy was missing from this commencement ceremony.

Graduate school is vastly different than undergraduate studies. I made strong friendships and continued to grow, but that feeling of restlessness and eagerness to move on was something that I had not yet felt. Maybe this feeling of restlessness is a product of being in school for 18 years straight, but somehow I think that is too simple an explanation. Instead, I think the restlessness is a result of knowing that I am ready for the next chapter.

When I left Michigan State, I was unsure if I was ready to be a graduate student. I was not entirely confident in my ability to be successful. Now, after completing two years of a rigorous Masters program, I know I am able to be successful in a full time position. I know that it will be challenging, but I know that I can persevere through those challenges.

Restlessness is not a normal feeling at University Commencements, but it’s a feeling I’m glad I felt two days ago.

Transitioning

With every major transition, the inevitable packing of boxes, donating of old clothes not worn in years, and the puzzle of fitting everything into a car is always in the mind of folks as they transition out of an experience. Yet, more important than that picture hanging on the wall and the closet full of dress clothes, are the relationships that were accumulated during an experience.

Right now, I am sitting in my office having begun the packing process. In a few days I will graduate from Miami University with a Masters of Science in Student Affairs in Higher Education. I am excited about my new position at Virginia Tech and am eager to return home and see my friends from Michigan State. The summer will be filled with camping, seeing old friends and family, and relaxing before my transition to Virginia Tech is complete in July.

But over the last few days, I have begun thinking of how to successfully transition out of Miami and keep the relationships I have formed, close. I know that my friendships with folks will undoubtedly change, as we will not be on the same campus any longer. Yet, keeping in touch with people is important and it is something that I know I will have to do to be successful.

Everyone I talk to, and everything I read, makes a point of saying ‘oh, social media makes it super easy to stay in touch with your friends, no matter where they are’ and that is true. Yet, as someone who often falls prey to the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ trap that often comes with location changes, I know I have to put in an effort to sustain friendships.

My transition to Miami University taught me how to keep relationships. I have successfully kept in contact with my friends from Michigan State, but even now we still are struggling to conceptualize what it means to have friends all over the country. Still, the transition away from 24 people who I have built strong friendships with during my two years here wont be easy and I will have to relearn how to sustain friendships with these people.

Undoubtedly, friendships will fade. Yet, as numerous folks are moving across the country this summer to start new opportunities and adventures, it is important to really reflect on what it means to transition away from friends and how to sustain those friendships. No advice, not even the cure-all that is social media, will help someone in that transition. Best of luck; it wont be easy.