The Divide in Our Country

I’ve been trying for months to figure out the huge differences in this nation. 73 million people voted for a man who, in my opinion, was the worst president we’ve ever had. He knew nothing about the Constitution he took an oath to defend and protect. He filled his cabinet with people who either knew nothing about their departments or actively had fought against them. He put children in cages after separating them from their parents. He called people names. He alienated our allies and made friends with our enemies. He knew there was a pandemic coming long before he told us, and he knew how serious it was, yet he took no responsibility for controlling it and actually bid against the states for Personal Protection Equipment, raising the prices and making less equipment available to the states. He defied his own chosen doctors’ advice, refusing to wear a mask or maintain social distance, leaving each state’s governor to deal with the disease by themselves. And he spent the last few weeks of his presidency fighting the results of a fair and clean election, through the courts, through bribery, through any means he could come up with. Yet his supporters stayed by him as he performed his acts of treachery. I couldn’t figure out why. And then I remembered my 30 years of college students.

I taught freshman English. One semester was writing and grammar; the second was literature. They were required courses; few students took them by choice, but they had to take (and pass) them in order to graduate. When I first started my career in 1984, few students wanted to take the course (ANOTHER English class? Didn’t I already have enough of that all through school?) Once in a while I had a student or two who openly rebelled, but usually they went through the motions of doing what was required in the class and suffered through the 2 15-week semesters with at least some respect and a little appreciation for what I taught them.

As the years progressed, so did technology, and I started to get arguments that the computer would do their writing for them — would correct their grammar and spelling, so they didn’t need to study those anymore. I gave them good examples of why computers were fallible, and how they were responsible for the finished work, not the computer. Where before the argument had been that their secretaries would correct their writing (and I pointed out that they had better pay them well, because their careers were in the secretaries’ hands, and they wouldn’t know if there were mistakes,) the argument now became the computer would correct their writing, so they didn’t need to know how.

Very few of my students were majoring in English (which is wise, because an English degree doesn’t go very far,) and so they put most of their effort and attention into their major classes, leaving less time for the less important subjects, like English. I pointed out that there would be writing involved in nearly every possible major they could choose, and there would certainly be writing required in most if not all of the classes they would have to take to graduate with a degree in whatever they were aiming at.

I explained through the years that no part of education is ever wasted. I had to take math and science classes when I was in college, even though I was a language major. But those classes worked different parts of my brain, made me think in different ways, see things from different directions. They opened and expanded my brain, even if I didn’t like them. As the years went by, I think fewer and fewer of my students believed me.

I understood that at their age (most of them right out of high school and enjoying some freedom for the first time) their interest was in their private lives. School was something they had to do, but it certainly wasn’t their top interest, and I didn’t expect it to be. I did expect, however, that they would make some effort to follow instructions, do the assignments and get them in on time, and put in enough effort to at least pass the course, if not get a top grade. Their grade would affect their cumulative average, after all. I tried to get them to see the big picture, what effect not only on their grades but on their education as a whole their effort would have. Many of them did understand. Many of them didn’t care.

And now I see 73 million people who can’t see the big picture, who are teenagers who never grew up, never learned to take responsibility, never wanted to follow the rules because they didn’t like the rules or couldn’t see what effect not following the rules would have on others. My own father said when Ronald Reagan was running for re-election, “Well, I’m doing okay, so I’ll vote for him again.” It didn’t matter that a lot of other people were NOT doing “okay.” He looked at it only as it affected him.

“So what’s wrong with Putin?” a student asked when I was pointing out 45’s great friendship with a Communist dictator. How do you explain that to someone who knows nothing of history and could care less? Our education system is out of whack. We don’t teach the big picture. We don’t teach our students to think. We don’t teach them that this is one country made up of many different kinds of people, and we all have the right to “do our own thing” only as long as it doesn’t step on the rights of everyone else to do theirs. I see it as the “you have a right to my opinion” syndrome. We don’t even recognize treason when we see it.

“I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just,” Thomas Jefferson once said. And those who do not know history are bound to repeat it. But we have to include history in our curriculum. And how to write and read — cursive, too. Most of the history of the last few hundred years is written in cursive, along with the letters Grandpa wrote home to Grandma during the war. And we were on the brink of watching our democracy end, and 73 million people didn’t notice. We can Google anything these days, but we can’t make people think or care. I tremble for my country, right along with Thomas Jefferson.

Photo by Brandon Mowinkel on Unsplash

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Jo An Fox-Wright Maddox

Jo An Fox-Wright Maddox

Former English professor ponders life, love, and how to leap tall buildings in a single bound.