Monday, February 20, 2012

Ponderings on President's Day

--If we were going to elect you President of the U.S., what would you do?

I think I would focus on very early education, which I know is strange, because I've spent my whole life in the field of college education.  But I've become convinced that having a very good pre-K, Kindergarten, and 1st grade education for every student is so VERY important.  Money spent there is money we won't later be spending on prisons and drug rehab and other places.  If money is tight, let's spend it there and let the high school kids and the college kids fend for themselves with the money that's left.  We'll have built a base eventually, and the older kids will be able to deal with the lack of fabulous high schools and with the high cost of college. 

And yet, why do we have to choose?  Why can't we have a solid pre-K through elementary program with fabulous high schools and great colleges that are affordable?

One of many reasons I'm not running for office.

--But if you need a great writing prompt for your students, try this:

I've always told my students that they should plan what they would do in leadership positions, because they may very well find themselves there some day, and it might be sooner than they think. I tell them about Nelson Mandela, and that the reason that he was prepared to be president of South Africa was that he spent all that time in jail (more years than most of my students have been alive) planning for what he would do if he took over the country. He didn't nurse anger or bitterness. No, he planned, along with his compatriots, who were jailed with them.

Then I give them a copy of an interview (in the fabulous book We Owe You Nothing: Punk Planet: The Collected Interviews) with Jello Biafra which has this challenge: "It's time to start thinking, 'What do I do if I suddenly find myself in charge?'" (page 46 of the first edition). Many of my students find this idea to be a wonderful writing prompt, even as they're doubtful that they would ever be allowed to be in charge of a national government.

--Of course, maybe you're one of many people who have today off.  Maybe you're thinking you want to serve something presidential that doesn't involve cherries.  Something with peanuts, in honor of Carter, who was a peanut farmer (wasn't he?) before he was a governor or a president.  Jelly beans were associated with Reagan, moon pies with Clinton--neither my favorite sweet.  Maybe you could make molasses cookies since Lincoln was said to be very fond of molasses.

Maybe you could create a menu that brings in dishes from all regions of the country.  A dessert buffet . . .

--In these days of increasingly ugly presidential campaigns, I must confess to wanting NOT to think about the Presidency.  Maybe it's time for a poem, a poem rooted in the Civil War, a poem that shows the capacity for reconciliation.  It first appeared in the Hampden-Sydney Poetry Review, and it's also part of my second chapbook, I Stand Here Shredding Documents.

Hiking Harper’s Ferry

The family finally splits asunder
at Harper’s Ferry. Brother pitted against brother,
and the mother finally secedes from this union,
at least for the afternoon. The father watches
her hike away, shakes his head
over his boys slugging each other on this slope.
He, too, turns his back. Maybe no one will realize
he brought these murderous children into the world.

The father ducks into the John Brown museum.
None of his family members will think to seek
him here. He sits in the dim light watching
the films loop again and again. He wonders
how it would be to have that wild-eyed
conviction in a cause. He sits in the mock
courtroom wondering when it will be safe to come out.

The mother stands at the crossroads of the Appalachian
Trail. She thinks of her younger self who backpacked
up and down the spines of continents
and wonders why she never tackled this one.
She thinks of doing it now, turns north,
then south. To hike to Georgia or Maine?
She ponders her young girl self, so different
from the woman she has become.
Paralyzed by her past, she can do nothing.
She sits on a rock and stares at the junction
of three rivers, this spot that Thomas Jefferson
declared the most beautiful in the New World.

The parents return to a field of calm.
Their boys have recruited other disaffected
children. They’ve created a game with inscrutable
rules. The parents discover that the boys have devoured
the best parts of the picnic. As the sun skips
west, they munch carrot sticks and apples as they watch
the children play, making up rules as they go along.

1 comment:

Kathleen said...

Powerful poem! Glad to be reading it again on this particular day!

What a great challenge you offer with your question, "What would you do if you were in charge?" I will ponder it, too!