Wednesday, March 24, 2010

How Do We Help Students Understand the Significance of What Just Happened?

This weekend I was a speaker in a conference at the University of South Carolina entitled: “Student Activism, Southern Style: Organizing and Protest in the 1960’s and 70’s”. My topic was how a student demonstration and, in reality, “rebellion”, unleashed a chain of events that led to the creation of USC’s now famous and widely replicated University 101 course and the series of influential Conferences on The First-Year Experience. I was on the same panel with a prominent 60’s activist, and leader of SNCC, the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, Cleveland Sellers, now President of Voorhees College in South Carolina.

It was a moving experience for me to recall the tumult of the times and to reflect on what difference(s) the student activism of the 60’s made. And, of equal importance, speaking on the very day the US House of Representatives took its historic vote on the health care insurance reform bill, this has led me to recall some of the great events and legislative acts of my lifetime and to reflect on what I understood at the time was the significance of what just happened. My thinking along these lines has led me to wonder what can, should we do to help our students reflect on the multiple meanings of the House vote on March 21, and how this will affect their lives. For me, I recalled:

1. Reading in August of 1964 The New York Times report of the North Vietnamese “attack” on the two US destroyers, the Turner, and the Maddox Joy, in the Gulf of Tonkin. I did not know then that that would be used as a pretext by the Johnson Administration to escalate the war in Vietnam which would ultimately lead to my induction into the US Armed Forces; and how that would bring me to South Carolina and to discover my calling as a higher educator;
2. The Civil Rights Act, also in the summer of 1964; and how that would change how we all live, work, play, and love together;
3. The Voting Rights Act; and how that would help make possible the election of Barack Obama in 2008.
4. The Medicare and Medicaid Acts of 1965 and how these would lay the basis for another civil rights bill which would not come to pass for another 45 years.

I look back and give thanks to my professors of those days for engaging us students in reflection on the significance of what had transpired. They put these events in context for us. They stimulated presentation of diverse perspectives on these events. They helped us develop a mental road map of what to look for ahead. They helped us place ourselves and our leaders on a historic continuum in America’s search for social justice for all.

What are you going to do to stimulate the same kind of reflection for your students?

What will you suggest that they read? Watch? Listen to?

Who will you suggest they talk with, listen to?
Who will you encourage them to write?
How will you help them prepare their own mental road maps for their lives ahead?

These are some of the great questions of our times.

-John N. Gardner

Monday, March 22, 2010

Child of the 60’s

I admit it. I am a child of the 60’s. Actually, I am a child of the 40’s, but this well established phrase is meant to suggest that those Americans who “came of age” in the 1960’s, and who were shaped in some measureable ways by the convergence of the civil rights, women’s, anti-war, and student protest movements, were to be henceforth known as a “child of the 60’s”.

Usually, the term was not meant necessarily to be one of respect. Sometimes it came to describe people who never really grew up, who never really joined the establishment; and/or who never gave up some brand of idealism coupled with some illustration of impractability.

I admit it: I am a child of the 60’s. I did join the Armed Forces; then after my tour of duty (in South Carolina) became a peace and civil rights activist, and a career higher educator. I admit and am proud of that many of my attitudes about the important of paying more attention to a neglected minority, first-year college students, were indeed influenced by the convergence of all the movements I suggest above. For me, improving the first year of college has always been about, and still is: social justice.

I am thinking in this vein because this past weekend our Congress voted upon legislation, that will be the most important civil rights legislation since 1964 and 65. I am also recalling the influence of the 1960’s because I spoke this past weekend at a conference at the University of South Carolina with the billing: “Student Activism, Southern Style: Organizing and Protest in the 1960’s and 70’s” organized by the USC Department of History. I will share in a future blog who this conference theme speaks to the origins of my career as an advocate for social, and educational, justice for beginning college students.

-John Gardner