50 / 50 ≠ Unity

Carol A. Hand

As I watched the electoral maps change when the election results were tallied this week, the micro-divisiveness within and among states was so obvious. So much for “the united states!” I was momentarily saddened because the “blue wave” that was supposed to end poverty, war, hunger, homelessness, imprisonment of migrant families, police brutality, and oppression didn’t happen. And then I realized that many of the races, especially at the national level, were almost equally divided between the “blue wave” and the “red tide.”

2018 U.S. Electoral Map

(Interactive maps, Huffington Post)

From the perspective of someone who has witnessed the divisive effects of 50/50 “democracy” for Indigenous forms of consensual governance, that’s not surprising.

While watching the maps change, I thought about the students I have taught in the past and continue to work with now who come from many of the slightly tinged “red” or “blue” communities. It’s a nation divided. It’s not what I want the next generations to inherit.

To be honest, I don’t have time to write a thoughtful well-researched analysis. But I do want to make a point about the value of education. Hopefully, education can help pass on the knowledge and skills that enable us to reach across divides to understand each other and build common ground. We do, after all, need to work together if we really want a peaceful world and healthy environments and communities.

These reflections bring to mind Jane Addams and the women of Hull-House. Their legacy is often unknown, even among newer generations of social work students. Together, they demonstrated how to work with knowledge, empathy, and passionate compassion to build solidarity and create respectful, inclusive alternatives to discriminatory, divisive, and punitive policies. They lived among the poorest new immigrant arrivals in Chicago. Instead of fostering divisions, they brought people together to learn and share. Among the issues they successfully addressed were child labor, unfair treatment of workers, infant and maternal mortality, tenant rights, city sanitation, and the creation of juveniles courts.

My hope is that the students I work with will learn from the examples of the Hulll-House women. Students are already familiar with life in divided communities in the forgotten little towns of this nation.

These are the kinds of students I prefer to teach. Early in my late-life career when I entered academia to become a scholar and educator, I made an important decision. Instead of choosing to work in prestigious research universities that served students from privileged backgrounds like the schools I had attended, I chose settings with students from backgrounds similar to mine. My father had a 9th-grade education, and although my mother did have a degree as a Registered Nurse from a prestigious university, she grew up poor on an Ojibwe reservation. Her education was made possible by the kindness of a wealthy Euro-American woman who owned a resort where my mother had worked as a teenager.

My mother repaid this gift by sending me off to school in the city where she studied decades before. Chicago. It was there that I met the educator who showed me how to teach, Sister Lorita. I wrote about her gift in an older post, “The wonder of life in a blade of grass.” Her example and caring affected me more profoundly than I realized at the time. I was my grandson’s age then, 19.

I am much older now. And I am very fortunate to still be able to teach a subject that is perhaps the most important foundation for life, research. As a former colleague, Maxine Jacobson,  observed, we are born researchers, inquisitive about the world around us. We lose our sense of wonder and curiosity as we age, though, through the processes of socialization. My job as an educator is to try to unlock those gifts once again, to help students remember how to be curious. To notice, explore, observe, reflect, and test the limits of what they’ve been taught and what they know.

I wonder what would happen in all of the “red” and “blue” communities if the people who lived there had a chance to be curious. The phenomenon I would like them to consider and explore is the miracle of life in a drop of pure water. Water is something that connects all life on our plant. We can’t live without it. I wonder if there is a way to refocus peoples’ attention on things that really matter.

***

Amity Creek – September, 2018

***

This semester, my colleague and I are trying an experiment. Students are working as teams to explore the quality of water in their communities by designing little research studies, talking to community members and staff in local agencies in charge of water treatment about the quality and threats for this resource, and planning community awareness activities. As “emic” (insider) researchers in their communities, what they learn is more likely to be useful to other residents including their own families.

I also wonder what would happen if education focused on awakening curiosity sooner than college. Youth would grow up more aware about the health of their communities. That is exactly what happened in a Photovoice study of water that involved Indigenous youth. I wonder if similar initiatives during elementary and high school years could bring the children from red and blue families together to understand, care about, and protect a precious resource they all need in order to live.

I do envision the possibility of a “blue wave” in the future, but it isn’t one that divides people along political ideological lines. It’s one that unites us to care for each other and the “pale blue dot” we all share in common.

***

22 thoughts on “50 / 50 ≠ Unity”

  1. Carol, here in Homer, AK a small community there is a charter school doing what you mentioned. In this sadly red state, there are quite progressive teachers at Fireweed Elementary teaching children to research and to care about the environment.

    I’ve been sharing with people who feel disheartened by the current state of US politics what Barak Obama was quoted as saying in a magazine article. This country’s history is one of the reactions, ups, and downs. And there is a lot of change going on, that doesn’t make the headline news.

    And we live in historic and exciting times, two Native American women in Congress, joining the largest contingent in history. This tide of feminine energy is flowing around the world in spiritual, intellectual, and digital ways. As long as we continue to work with compassion in our hearts and minds the flow of goodness continues.

    Liked by 7 people

    1. Such important reminders, Cynthia. Your comments bring to mind a question one of my Ojibwe students asked in class. “How can we know what is possible if all we’ve known is the community where were born and have lived in all of our lives?”

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Based on the electoral map, we would appear to be a nation of conservatives with a scattering of liberal thinkers. I believe that there is need for a more accurate depiction that shows the populations represented by each red and blue dot.

    We are too focused, I believe, on the ways we differ and not on what we share in common, such as the importance of water in our communities, as you mentioned. Then, of course, that is by design to keep us under control.

    I share Carl Sagan’s vision that humankind requires a cosmic perspective for changing our relationship with each other and with the planet we inhabit.

    Liked by 6 people

  3. Your wondering about mutual curiosity is a great question, Carol. Whether we make needed progress toward understanding and respect through education or by other means, there exists a growing need for people of divergent views to listen and communicate more often – even in some discomfort.
    I appreciate your views and love that you deemed it “red tide.” Toxic it is. 😉

    Liked by 4 people

  4. Thanks, again, for your great thoughts, Carol. I believe Buster’s first blog was Education, and how vital it is. You have “hit the nail on the head!” Curiosity! If our educational systems could only stoke that little item, students can learn for themselves, and find that we are all in the “same boat.” Then we can all try harder not to rock this vessel.
    Buster’s old pappy; the lad is snoozing already.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. I think there was indeed a blue wave. Look at the new faces going to Congress, and on the local municipal level, lots of change. More than 20 candidates who were supported by the NRA were defeated.

    But I was not just disappointed but enraged by failures of the Dem Party. Looking at your map, I don’t think all rural people are rightwing. I went up to the Central Valley where rightwing Republicans have misrepresented the population for decades. Most people are registered Democrat. Most are poor. The drinking water isn’t potable. More than half of the population relies on Medicaid which their Congressman keeps voting to cut. But when I went up there, people hadn’t received a single phone call or mailer or door knock. The minimal political literature available didn’t even include the names of the Democratic candidates for Congress or for County Supervisor. People had no idea they got to vote on who goes to Washington or what a Supervisor does. Political outreach and education completely lacking in the poorest part of CA. I made three trips up there. On Election Day, they sent me to the largest city to get the vote out in an area that turned out to be homeless shelters and halfway houses. People who certainly need to have their say, but when it comes down to the wire, I felt my time was wasted when the people whose names I had either couldn’t be located or were too high on drugs for any kind of conversation. I wanted to visit farmworkers! The same old Republican was reelected by a wide margin. Sure, it’s easier to campaign in cities, but we need to send vans out in farming areas and talk to people in every small town and we are not doing that. With so much media control over what people, especially in small towns get, we need to counteract all that by making a real effort. Anyway, I don’t mean just to vent, but I keep babbling about this everywhere in the hopes of reaching people who live in smaller population centers than I do! So, sigh, I do think we did well, but I also think once Trump is gone, well-to-do suburban voters will revert to self-interest and vote Republican. So we need to get into the heartland. Carol, you do that every day.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Thanks, also, Carol, for introducing us to the Hull House info. What a shame the very wealthy prefer to donate their $Billions to politics rather to such places helping those who need help. As some old fool must have said, “Money is an evil root!”

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Carol, this post is “melancholy” – sad but beautiful. I cried. I want so much to see peace, harmony, and respect returned to our society, and yet it feels like a losing battle. There are so many of us yearning for that, but with a few strong words about “invading armies of immigrants” and the “cost” of electing progressives, and suddenly the enemies of peace turn out in droves to stop it…

    And all the hype so obviously purposeful and temporary, and… ridiculous, really! But these people truly (truly!) believe it. I don’t know how to counter that.

    Awakening curiosity seems like a dream, for many of the people we most need to reach do not realize they do not truly know anything. Nor do they want to know any differently. How do we awaken such curiosity in them?

    Sigh…

    In any event, I applaud you in your work. You are doing much to keep hope alive. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Carol, the landscape is so much more complex than we are encouraged to believe. Of course there are pockets of deep color, but for much of the nation there is a rich intermingling. I join you in hoping for a future of more agreement than strife.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. This is such a beautiful post.

    Between that and the enlightened comments I don’t really have anything to add other than being grateful to read your words and to be inspired by them.

    You help me feel that there is hope that we’ll learn to care before we destroy our amazing planet known as Pachamama in the country that will soon be my home, Bolivia. ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

  10. The research/experiment you will make looks good, my dear earthling friend! But the local responsible organizations for water, I do not know how much accurate information they can give you. Maybe you can add sub fun part for your students under this experiment. With this way you would get a clear view of how healthy the water is. Namely,

    Each student who will participate in the experiment will feed a small goldfish during the experiment period (could be two weeks, three weeks, 1 month or etc). They need to use tap water in their own home for changing the water in the jar or small aquarium. For example after a month, a few fish scale to be taken from the skin of the fish, would be examined in a laboratory. If there is any chemical waste on the fish, it will come out.

    Of course, before the experiment, fish scale should be tested first(like the same at the end, a few fish scale would be tested at first too), and if there is any chemicals on it, it should be noted. Because if there is any chemical in the beginning on the fish, then they should not be mixed with the chemicals that will appear after. In addition, each student must give the same fish feed for a month, and every fish needs to be same kind.

    During this time you, the teachers or the students can even open a blog page, (could be in wordpress;) for this experiment. If you allow students to share and write their observations, this increases communication among themselves. Also the people living in your area would understand how the research is being done while they read your blog, and I think that they will be more helpful for your students in their research. We also would read what is happening in your experiment and give you our support from different corners of the planet. 🙂

    I think this gives all you(students and teachers) a fun part to your experiment as well as communicating with an animal, dear Carol. (By the way, if any student puts the Yoda name to his/her fish, it is my favorite from now, haha!) You would also learn from first hand the quality of water in the neighborhoods. Of course, this is all my idea. I know this has been long, but when I start to think and write for the situations like experiments, I cannot stop myself, kind of extraterrestrial situation I guess, haha!

    Liked by 1 person

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