A while back, I signed up to be a part of the Clever Cookie School of Blog, and since then I’ve gotten to be good blogging friends with some incredible bloggers from around the world. Each month on the 10th, some of us form a 10 on 10 photography circle. We share 10 photos (occasionally more – my bad!) from our life – a day of our life, generally – and one of us link to another. Our visitors have the opportunity to make their way around the circle. Some of you may have made your way here from Sam at The Annoyed Thyroid and if so WELCOME! Others of you will leave me and head on off to visit with Cathy at Peregrination Gourmande. I hope you enjoy!
As I write this post, here in the United States, we’ve just finished voting in our Presidential election. I’ve struggled with trying to put into words…and even some days, thoughts…everything that I’m feeling or processing about this election. I’ve tried to figure out how to teach this election to my students, and I haven’t quite figured out how to do that particularly well. One of the things that I eventually hit on was Dear Next President. As I now know the results of our election, my thoughts aren’t as cohesive as I hoped they would be. Apologies.
With that in mind, this month’s 10 on 10 post is my letter to the next President.
Dear Next President:
Hi. I hope that you’re taking a moment to take in all that has taken place for you in the last year or so. It’s been a difficult election, hasn’t it? Wildly erratic, filled with ups and downs. Its kinda like our lives here on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. You didn’t spend much time here in Mississippi. Mr. Trump made two visits to the state – once here on the Coast and once in Jackson; Mrs. Clinton didn’t stop here at all, but I honestly can’t say that I blame her. We are a red state. Beautiful, but red.
There’s an old quote that has been attributed to William Faulkner that goes something like to understand the world, you must first understand a place like Mississippi. We can’t really determine whether that is a true quote or not, but it’s likely that it’s not true. The point remains, though, that if you really want to understand this country, perhaps we need to stop and think about the places on the edges – places like Mississippi.
Because make no mistake, Mississippi is on the edge. In almost every single category that matters in someway or another, Mississippi is last. Our economy is stagnant. Poverty and a state government that can’t quite figure out how to put her people first has gutted our schools. We are literally dying in this state. Our governor refused the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion, and more of our people cannot afford health care than we care to admit.
I’m a teacher. I see our future every day, and there are nights when I cannot sleep because I’m not sure what to tell my students about their futures. While I tell them that they always have a choice, that their futures are in their hands, many of them can’t see past who they are and where they find themselves.
They live lives that you cannot imagine. One of them told me recently that his momma and her boyfriend were going to rehab to finally kick the drugs…because they didn’t want DHS to take his little sister. They didn’t particularly care what happened to him. Some of them don’t know where tonight’s meal is coming from; others have no idea what it means to means to have a bank account – because no one in their family has one.
Can you imagine that? Any of it? You’re talking about the hundreds of millions that you either made or lost or had donated. And there are people in this country who have no idea how banking works; it just doesn’t apply in their world. Let that sink in. I mean really – sink in. When you’re saying that it’s gonna be great or you’re releasing pages upon pages of detailed policy positions, what does that mean to people like my students’ parents? Really – what does that mean for them?
I like to think that I know where my students have been. I didn’t grow up privileged. For a long time, my father’s house didn’t have indoor plumbing. Those days a long ago and far away for me. Education could change lives; that was always one of my core beliefs. I can mouth those same words to my students, but the truth is that none of us believe it. In some ways our world is so much bigger and wider than it used to be, but in many ways, it has contracted. As education has become more expensive and prohibitive, there are fewer and fewer options for my students.
All of these photos – except for the first one – were taken at the vocational center at the high school where I teach. I don’t remember this many cars there last year for election day. Perhaps a vocational center for our students should be exciting enough; I know that in many places, we’ve put such an emphasis on college or post-secondary education that vocational programs have been shuttered.
To be honest, I’ve never quite understood that idea. While college is a great idea, we are always going to need people to work on our cars, repair our plumbing, cut our hair. Aren’t we? We aren’t helping our young people be prepared for those kinds of jobs. Mike Rowe speaks passionately about needing skilled trades. The problem, at least with *our* vocational center, is that it’s not really a place to learn a trade. Our valedictorian and the top members of the class – kids who are definitely going to college – are in those vocational classes. My students, who are struggling because they are behind due to their disabilities, are locked out of those classes and those opportunities. They don’t see a way to be a part of the American Dream because there really isn’t a way for them in the American Dream.
There are no options for them. How are you going to help them? What hope can you give them?
When I think about my students and Mississippi, I see a real concern with fairness. We want to make sure that people earn what they have and haven’t gotten something for nothing. We value (or at least we say we do) hard work and the ability make something from nothing. We are patriotic and deeply spiritual with an engrained idea of right and wrong. Many issues are black and white for us with no shades of grey.
No one – not even you – is talking about what is going to make the difference in the lives of my students and their families. I can’t quite figure out why that is because it seems to me that if we are helping the least of us, we are helping the most of us. We’ve spent a lot of time in this country working to make that saying about a rising tide lifting all boats true but it seems to me that we can’t send ships out to sea if we don’t have safe harbors first. Those safe harbors are few and far between.
There’s a lot of fear out here. I’m not sure if you really understand what that means. It feels like our world is changing and the things that were once certainties no longer are. Majorities are becoming minorities. Futures that were once set and assured are very shaky and unsettled. The American Dream doesn’t feel within reach for most of us, and we aren’t sure what replaces it.
We’re blaming each other for all of the uncertainty in our lives without really considering that we aren’t the problem. Those of us getting up and going to work each day – even those of us don’t get up and go to work every day – we aren’t the enemies. I tend to believe that the enemy is really this idea that about how different we are from each other.
We’re not, really.
We all pretty much want the same things. A disagreement about how to get there is no big deal. Really it’s not. If we remember that we’re trying to get to the same place, we can negotiate the route to that place.
This country is incredibly blessed. There are so many wonderful things about us. I see that all the time here on the Coast. When I moved to Mississippi, I found many things that confirmed my beliefs about the place, but I also found a home mostly because of how strong, wonderful, and giving the people are. In order for me to get to this point, I had to pay attention and be willing to meet people where they are. I had to be willing to look past my own prejudices in order to really see people for who they are.
And I think that perhaps that’s what I really want you to know: if you are willing to see us for who we really are, to meet us where we are, we’re going to be OK. You have to think about all of us; not just those who supported you. If you can’t help us all, then you need to carefully consider your choice. Mississippi is small, and we are poor. The promise of this country will never be fulfilled if we in Mississippi aren’t considered part of the promise land.
Hard-working, dedicated people fill this wildly beautiful and amazing place. Find a way to know us; we’re all worth it.
Now because this is a photography circle, please make your way to my friend Cathy at Peregrination Gourmande. There are only three of us this month, so if you’re starting with me, you’ll know you’re done when you get to Sam at The Annoyed Thyroid . Leave us some comment love on your trip, please because bloggers love comments. I hope you enjoy!