Being Abroad Changed My Perspective On The United States and My Classroom

I haven’t posted for a while because I went abroad on a European adventure with my wife to Denmark and Sweden.  While there I was able to see lots of things I had read about in books.  I saw castles, art that I could only see there, and viewed how the people interacted with one another.  I think the Danish people are probably some of the friendliest people I have ever met and most had some sort of a background in English, which made life easier for me as I traveled because my Danish was very rudimentary.  They were also quiet, but still louder than the Germans who took offense to my loudness in the Mercedes Museum when I visited years ago.   The food was wonderful.  It tasted so much purer.  I think there might be something going on with our food supply, but that is for another post. ..   I took many pictures and posted on the social media sites, where I gained likes from former students.  I think I might write a post on social media and the potential it has for connecting with students outside of school.  All in all, it was a great trip.

I think the thing I noticed the most is that the society in Denmark is not tearing itself apart.  There are struggles and decisions, but when contrasted with our own society the people were much happier.  I know that I passed homeless people who did not love life while freezing cold outside, but in general the people as a whole were enjoying life.  There was much laughter.  The people were mostly fit.  The question that kept coming to mind was, “Where are we going wrong?”      

In the US society is tearing itself apart in so many ways.  Everyone is demanding what they think is their own version of justice, but no one is offering solutions.  We appear to be a deeply unhappy group of people.  Everyone is angry about something and just attempting to tear down everything around them.  I know that America has always operated this way.  We are always on the brink.   We are always full of passion and opinion, but often short on solutions or the will to implement them.  It is how the system was intended to work at least for the discussion piece, but at this time nothing is being accomplished.  Our government seems inept or unwilling to offer solutions.  Groups of people are going around hating themselves as well as others.  The internet, which was supposed to revolutionize the discourse, is full of anger, hate, sorrow, anxiety, and confusion going in all directions.   Online lynch mobs are "swatting" people and causing people to lose their livelihood.  Due process is now being scoffed at or circumvented and freedom of speech is being shackled by political correctness.    When did this become America?  

What happened to the belief that we all can succeed?  Almost yearly now I get students who come to me believing America is a giant lie.  That the things I am trying to show them is just a farce.  Are things that bad?  What if we all choose to stop believing that we can get ahead or that our lives can be better if we work at it?  Think about that.   If everyone stopped believing that we the masters of our lives what would the US look like?  The answer is one giant riot or one docile group of people.  Those prospects make me shudder...

We still need the American dream.  Everyone in the nation needs that dream.  When a group of people feel like that is not possible they riot.  That is a scary proposition.  Is it that bad or as a society are we all convinced it is really that bad, which makes it a self-fulfilling prophecy?  Personally, I still believe in teaching my students they can succeed if they keep trying and teaching them that the American dream is still attainable no matter where or when they were born. 

I feel like we are missing something.  There has to be a better way than what we have been doing for the last fifteen years.  We have to figure out how to heal the nation so we can all move forward.  We have so many wounds that have been bleeding for so long.  It is time to figure out how to really apply a societal treatment...  I am not sure what that treatment is, but I do know it cannot involve different groups of people projecting anger at another.  We all have to work together instead of resorting to divisive measures. We have to understand we are all Americans who have a stake in the process.  When Americans work together it is an impressive sight.  When we fight it is truly ugly.  Lets commit to working together for 2015.    

The above has been rattling around in my head for the last week and it influenced what I wanted to do for 2015 in my classroom.  I am hoping that maybe I can make a difference for the next group of people.  Maybe if I do enough in twenty years the US will have figured some of this out.  

Goals for 2015:

-Teach students skills that will help them think more than the information that will be on county/state tests. 
This world is so confusing and people everywhere are trying to sort it out.  Just look at the blogs/vlogs.  Maybe if we give them these skills they can figure this world out better than we can.  I think this will help relieve them of some of their stress.  

-Show students that this nation is still one of the few places on earth that if you choose to make something of yourself you can. 
I know this to be true.  I don’t care if everyone seems to think it is not.  For some it will be harder than others, but it is still possible for everyone.  It is all about mindset and how dominant you decide to be in your life.  You want to complain about your lot in life go ahead.  Just remember that others are not complaining and are climbing into the place you want to be.  As a coach I have worked with once said, “You have to choose to win.”  

-Show my students that there is a point to the history I am trying to teach them. 
My class fluctuates between government and history due to the nature of the course.  My class is not a parade of white men, like so many people like to think it is.  In fact, everyone gets represented somewhere.  This is the story of the US.  This is where we came from.  This is why we exist in the state we do.  Everything good and bad was the foundation on which we now stand.  You cannot understand our current world and our relationships without understanding those that came before.  

-Help each student begin to develop their own personage.
Many teachers push themselves upon their students.  I had many of them.  In fact, I became extremely confused about the influence and meaning of the Jackson administration because I had two separate teachers tell me very different narratives.  I have never felt this is my business.  My purpose is to help them develop their own self.  8th grade is where it really beings.  I know that by 8th grade my own beliefs began to take shape.  How else could I have formed an opinion about the state of American prisons and presented a presentation and written a ten page paper?  I still hold those opinions to this day.  Sister Patricia helped me begin to think about what I wanted to believe.  I know that I am only step one, but I still need to be that 1st step.  

-Allow the students to explore.  They need it more than I need peace.
The Danish were very hands off with their children.  They ran around and no one seemed to care in public.  In the US everyone would be yelling or judging or just plain old getting upset.  Most people there just smiled and moved out of the way.  Parents let their kids fail and fall over.  I am going to try to be more like this.  Let them explore the information.  Help them process.  If they really want to show me something they created I need to let them.  They just want a little reassurance and guidance. 


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