A few weeks ago, I returned by bus from our nation’s capital to my home in Montgomery, Alabama after a five day journey with seventy-five eager eighth graders and eight dedicated faculty chaperones. The trip witnessed its share of joys and there were a few pitfalls along the way. The continuing Presidential Primary conversations added considerably to the intrigue of the trip. After all, we were headed to the White House as well! Accordingly, a friendly disagreement ensued about which of the candidates would most likely win. Super Tuesday was looming and the primary cavalcade was headed toward our city. As an educator, closet sociologist, and former AP Government teacher, I could not help myself as I made comparisons between the interactions of our eighth graders and the campaign trail. Ultimately, they are alike in at least three ways:
- both are on hunts (often meandering) for authenticity.
- both are tethered to ideology they haven’t really unpacked but from which they have trouble escaping .
- both have the opportunity to grow and mature to full fruition before our eyes in just a few months.
The hunt for authentic interactions among our eighth graders is the point for the annual DC trip. Putting seventy-five students on two buses for fourteen hours is a little like putting living organisms in a peitri dish. Add in ubiquitious amounts of smart phone use with social media and the resulting cocktail can be as worrisome as Middle Eastern politics. I began to wonder if Donald Trump is a better candidate because he would never has use for a insidious app like Snapchat. He certainly is a lot like our some of our 8th graders in that he sometimes would be wise if he used a filter. Other times, I subtly wish they would be more like him and stand behind their words publicly.
During the trip, the chaperones often took the opportunity to dislodge the aforementioned cell phones from claws of the students. One such night was the night of the dinner cruise on the Potomac. Each year we offer the 8th graders on the trip the opportunity to dine and dance with their peers on this vessel during the last night of their trip. It is often the most memorable social event of the 8th grade year. This year we thought we would do it a little differently. We decided we would collect their phones on the bus before boarding the vessel. What a difference it made! It was apparently a wise decision. Shockingly, streams of anxiety lines were removed from our students’ faces. The tethers were cut and a new world of authenticity opened. Every member of the class danced for extended periods. Nearly 90% of the students danced the entire time the music was playing. Our DJ received the highest approval rating since FDR helped America out of the Great Depression and put US troops in position to win World War II. Left without the opportunity to sit at their tables and commence the spinal curvature natural to an adolescent on a device, they stretched their legs and their minds with interactions to last a lifetime. Best of all, it did not matter if they received 7 or 77 likes on their page for their dance moves. Instead, they received authentic applause and high fives.
The winnowing Republican field (down to five candidates heading into Super Tuesday) will hopefully offer the opportunity for similar authenticity. Credibility will be less about artificial polling numbers (how many “likes” a candidate gets) amongst crowds of JV and Varsity candidates on stages of soundbite debates. It will be developed and grown by each candidate building planks to his platform. Now that we are down to two or three candidates we will really get to know them like one gets to know another by sitting and talking over a fourteen hour bus ride. Mr. Trump has all the popularity now like the star of the Middle School football team, but will the shine of his daring become blemished by an “off the field incident?” Maybe someone of a bit more substance might rise to the occasion against the real estate mogul who has conducted his campaign a bit like the bully in the bathroom. Former governor Bush was ultimately unable to stand up to the bully in a manner that warmed the hearts and minds of the body politic, but maybe another will seize the opportunity. Perhaps Senator Marco Rubio can coalesce the Florida demographic (as I write this the Florida Primary precincts are closing) now that Governor Bush is gone like the middle schooler who gathers as new friends the friends of the boy who moved away in the middle of the school year. Perhaps Senator Cruz can validate that he is truly the anti-establishment candidate in a manner that makes the populace relate with him. Or will his campaign simply resonate with the fringes like the leader of the Goths or the Punk movements in some middle schools during prior decades. At this point, it looks as if he has not been able to anti-establish better than Mr. Trump who upped the anti and claims no established principles other than purer capitalism and closed borders and in doing so carries none of the baggage. Maybe Governor Kasich can rise above the fray like the polite young man that the teachers always knew had a pure heart but rarely had his chance to shine
While some of the assaults will be the same, there will be less room to hide. No longer will the stage of 13 hide the candidate who has not fully developed their philosophies. Thankfully, in the Middle School, we are blessed to have the opportunity everyday to watch as our students are developing theirs.
Until next time, happy hunting (for authenticity)