Monday, September 1, 2014

First Lesson of the School Year and NYC

Ten years after moving out East I finally made it up to New York City this weekend. It was great just like I'd always thought it would be, but we didn't see or do all the things we'd like to so my husband and I both want to go back again. Preferably around the holidays next time.

I wasn't expecting it to have the American History impact on me that it did. Maybe it was because of the lesson I did this past first week of school with my students, but I found the trip a refreshing reminder of what America stands for.

I started this week off with my students with the following five discussion questions:
1. What is the American Dream?
2. How does the American Dream differ from one cultural or subgroup in our society to another?
3. How has the American Dream changed, if it has, from one generation to the next?
4. What are we living and experiencing right now that is one day going to be American History and how is that shaping us and our perceptions?
5.  Is the American Dream possible to all people?

Feel free yourself to respond to any of these. As in the case in any English class there isn't just one right answer.

As we visited the Statue of Liberty, the 9/11 Memorial, and an American Revolution Cemetery I found myself drawn back to these questions. The following is quoted from a monument in Liberty Park, "Dedicated to America's role of preserving freedom and rescuing the oppressed." In the distance was the Statue of Liberty in which she stands to represent the hope of freedom and opportunity to all those that seek American soil.  The day before we visited an American Revolution Cemetery, in which our ancestors gave their life for this dream of freedom. As we visited the 9/11 Memorial shortly after dark, which I think made the moment even more sombering I explained to my girls that day in history that will forever live in my mind. It was a time when those that hated what we stood for tried to destroy it, and again many died that day and in the years following to preserve the freedom and hope of America.

Unfortunately, I know we can't all agree on our political views, but I will stand by mine. Mine is this. America is about hope. Not just hope if you're white, if you are rich, if you are Christian, if your family has been here hundreds of years. America is about hope for something better, for freedom, for opportunity, for individual happiness in all our varied perceptions of happy. I did not always see it this way, but I find the diversity of America an amazing and beautiful thing. America is meant to be a place where despite our differences we can all live as one united race, the human race, however, I do feel this is still a work in progress.

I did one other activity with my students that first day in which I posted the following words around the room: happiness, opportunity, American, diversity, equality, and freedom. They had to rotate around the room in groups and add one other word to the paper that they associated with the word posted. One of them wrote responsibility with freedom. I don't know if they were really sure at the time why they wrote it, but I found it a great one to talk about as we revisited each list. The way I saw it was that we all have a responsibility as an American to uphold and preserve this idea of freedom that this country was founded upon. With that freedom comes opportunity for all to pursue their vision of happiness, which to me is the American Dream.

The last thing I asked my students that first day was if I had a group of fifteen people from a variety of races, cultures, different income backgrounds, and different religions, and they all told me they were living their version of the American Dream what is the common factor that got them there?

They answered correctly with "their attitude, their drive, their mindset, their work ethic", and I think you get the idea.  Some, maybe many will never get their chance at the dream, but it was always meant to be an opportunity for any that were willing to work hard enough to make it their reality.


  1. I believe that the American Dream is being happy :-) I think it is knowing that you can always make your life what you want it to be and having the ability to change and grow!

    Thank you for sharing on the #SHINEbloghop

    1. I think pursuit of happiness sums it up. We all have a different idea of what that entails, but in the end we all just want to live a life that makes us happy. Thanks for stopping by to read.