I teach Language Arts at a high school where over 70% of our students are economically disadvantaged. As the economic crisis has deepened, I have seen several of our students' parents lose their jobs. Some have lost their homes; some students depend on the school lunches and breakfasts for their main source of nourishment. When I look at these children, I question the value of what I teach. Does it really matter if they know how to make their pronouns and antecedents agree when they are not sure where they will sleep tonight? Will Shakespeare's beautiful words keep their stomachs from growling in the middle of the night? How do they concentrate on homework when they worry what will happen to their families? Even so, I believe that everything happens for a reason - has a purpose in the bigger scheme of things. Since last August, my Honors American Literature class has been discussing the American Dream and tracing how it has changed over time. One of my first assignments was for the students to define the American Dream. Typically, the definitions mostly centered on money and fame - luxury SUVs, mansions, and notoriety. At first I was disappointed in the answers, but as the economy worsened I began to see the situation as an opportunity for all of us, me included, to realign our priorities. What better time is there to re-examine the values on which the nation was founded and to evaluate their worth today? Through the great American writers both the students and I get to see how our ancestors weathered the tough times and what helped to keep their hopes and dreams alive. These pieces start conversations about our responsibility to our communities and society in general, how much is enough and can there ever be too much, and the difficulties of controlling desire in a materialistic nation. I heard one of your guests say that "a crisis is a terrible thing to waste." I agree. People only grow through dealing with difficulties. I hope this economic crisis stimulates people all across the globe to have the same conversations that my classes are having. I am sure the economy will eventually get better; it always does. But while we are here, let's put it to good use to build stronger ties to our community and one another,teach our children that people, not things, matter, and remember that we, not our possessions, create our own happiness.
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