Today, radio presenter and political activist Doug Wagner took our SEP students on a journey through time. Together, they explored the past few centuries of American history, delving into the founding of America, what it means to be an American, and the essence of the American Dream. He also gave a valuable primer into the structure and process of American politics and the methods by which the state (and the country) conducts itself. Though this lecture clearly left an impression on our young students, we also wanted to give them a first-hand taste of what they were hearing, and to that end we allowed them direct access to various blocks of the American system.
They were able to attend a community-level public meeting on a local school board, and sat in on elected officials and ordinary tax-payers and citizens interacting and engaging with one another to ensure the best possible policy decisions were being implemented. They were then introduced to the ever-present presence of the American media, the fourth estate, during live interviews on national TV, in which they learned how to conduct themselves and answer questions in front of a curious press. Later on, we visited Ravi Patel, the democratic party candidate for the first district in Congress; inspired by a living embodiment of the American dream (his grandparents had been struggling farmers in India, while his parents had immigrated to the US to own a motel), the students listened as Mr. Patel related to us the story of his struggle and his triumphs, as well as the basics of his job in legislature.
Finally, our students received the remarkable opportunity to have an extended conversation with the Mayor of Cedar Rapids, in which they actively discussed everything from issues of local government to disaster management. They were able to make a true connection between east and west, as they talked openly about the similarities between the flood relief the mayor had conducted in 2008 and the tsunami that had devastated India in recent years.
After long and full days of interesting, engaging and educational experiences, our students came back to their guide to all things American, Doug Wagner, as he took them through a 2 hour session of reflection on everything they had learned. In this time, he spoke of a shorthand that historians like to use to explain the motives of colonial experience: the three G’s, which represent glory, God and gold. He explained that America must be understood as beginning its life as a frontier country made up of colonialists and immigrants, a tradition that continues in many ways to this day, and the students were eager to point out that the goals of immigrants of the past were not much different from the goals of the immigrants of the present. The students left America feeling more excited and emotionally engaged than ever by the prospect of studying there, as well as with a deep and genuine understanding of American politics, culture and values that will serve them in enormous stead should they ever choose to follow the footsteps of millions of people from the past and present and chase after the three G’s of their own.
The Cultural Enrichment Program serves to allow students to gain knowledge of the major traditions of American history and culture, and an appreciation for the diversity and social voices within, and sometimes marginalized by, those traditions. This will them allow them to develop an ability to place their high school education in a larger historical and cultural context, in order to gain a richer understanding of the text they study and the world they live in.
1. A video of the school board meeting they attended: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GBJqBq85ITQ&feature=youtu.be
2. The campaign site of congressman Ravi Patel: https://patelforiowa.com
3. The official webpage of the mayor of Cedar Rapids: http://www.cedar-rapids.org/…/mayo…/Mayor/Pages/default.aspx
Full recordings of all events and lectures are available via request, please contact Sohom in order to receive those.
Doug Wagners Experience on SEP
This was not a typical Saturday morning. I met four students to discuss the history, culture, politics and policy of the United States (U.S.). The last time I taught a class like this, it was to Boy Scouts, many of whom would reach the pinnacle; the rank of Eagle.
While it is difficult for those not born and raised in the U.S. to understand the idiomatic language necessary to explain the history of America, our students performed wonderfully. As I do with all of my students, I stressed repetition, and make sure they use the information during our discussions.
We covered such ideas as:
- Manifest Destiny: The 19th Century idea that American not only could, but SHOULD stretch from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean
- Rugged Individualism: While popularized by President Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt, this ideal goes farther back in time, to the founding of the colonies in America. While many of the original colonists lived in a communal society, the necessity of great personal sacrifice was a requirement for any successes…that starts at the individual level
- Founding Fathers: Those patriots who stood against the tyranny of King George of the British Empire, and for freedom for the united States of America. The Declaration of Independence does NOT capitalize the “u” in “united,” reflecting the founders’ belief that the greater power should rest in the States, rather than a united or centralized government
The students responded with remarkable recall and verbal dexterity when challenged to recall and illuminate examples of popular American ideals they were personally familiar with. One of the goals of meetings such as ours is to familiarize students with broad concepts of American life and culture if they decide to pursue higher education in the States.
As an added bonus, while reading along with them from the Declaration of Independence, I was reminded of the remarkable sacrifice of our Founding Fathers, experiencing chills and goose flesh:
“And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.” As teachers, we do not require our students to adopt these principles, but instead, to understand the importance of the words on not only the foundation of the U.S., but upon the world as a whole.
I look forward to meeting the next batch of students in the near future!