Today the last of my students presented their candidates for their American Election Projects. The prodigy of the class actually gave a speech as Jon Huntsman, complete with that tough drawly accent I’ve come to identify as Republican. The Norwegian bits lingering around her voice made it entertaining, but you could really see Huntsman shining through. She doesn’t often speak in class, but what she does say is thought-out, and her work keeps thrilling me with its creative spins. I’m trying to remember how I always knew that I was my teachers’ favorite—I’d like to slip her some sort of hint that her work is really astounding and that I can see she’s both working hard and brilliant. Something more professional than gushing approval and more expansive than curt messages in the margins of her journals. Or perhaps she just knows.
After the last students had presented their candidates, we had a discussion about the issues they’d researched. At least, we tried to. We ended up in an analysis of the Norwegian system as compared to the American one. You see, these kids were born and raised in a welfare state. It’s exceedingly difficult for them to get their minds around the idea that not only does government not necessarily have a responsibility to solve all its citizens’ problems, but that the citizens might not want it to. As I strove to present a libertarian perspective, I dragged through all the quotes in my arsenal, starting with the noble Thomas Jefferson’s “a government big enough to give you everything you want, is big enough to take away everything,” and ending with the inglorious V for Vendetta line, “people should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people.” And yet still, at the end of it, when Western responsibility to 3rd world countries was being discussed and I suggested the need to treat the countries not as victims but as actors in their own right, A agreed by saying that yes, they need to create governments that can take care of their people. I don’t know how to make these kids see the upside of a market economy, or understand the tremendous waste that comes with having such a huge government with no market incentive to efficiency, or the advantage that local, volunteer-based organizations can have over a federal government in understanding the need of the locals and fulfilling it efficiently. I’m a staunch Democrat, but as I teach I’m realizing that’s mostly a result of my position on social issues like abortion and gay rights (and the current insanity of the Republican party) instead of an indicator of the way I see ideal government.
In my Amlit class, we’re reading Amy Tan’s Joy Luck Club, so I labored to put together a politically correct presentation on American and Asian-American culture clashes in the book. I ended up with a chart that looks like this:
The American Dream
Disney rebel child
Work Ethic: Work Smart
The Asian-American Dream: Beat the Americans (Tiger Mom)
Work Ethic: Work Hard (Asian F)
Who knows what kind of new prejudices my Norwegian students left the class with. I just wish there had been an American in the room to appreciate my humor.
Tomorrow, Ruth (the other Fulbrighter at Fantoft), Amanda (ETA in Ås near Oslo), and I are going to Dublin! We found $50 tickets, so we decided to schedule an impromptu Fulbrighter vacation. I’ll keep you posted on the city of Yeats, Beckett, and leprechauns when I get back (Joyce must be mentioned but I WILL NOT include him with the other two, so instead he gets shunted to this parenthesis. Yes, it’s personal). Expect pictures, and an answer for Elizabeth Bishop.
Questions of Travel
What childishness is it that while there's a breath of life
in our bodies, we are determined to rush
to see the sun the other way around?
The tiniest green hummingbird in the world?
To stare at some inexplicable old stonework,
inexplicable and impenetrable,
at any view,
instantly seen and always, always delightful?
Oh, must we dream our dreams
and have them, too?
And have we room
for one more folded sunset, still quite warm?