Friday, June 3, 2011

Solidarity Forever

It is rare for me to concur with David Brooks. But in this column, directed at college graduates, I found something we agree on. He says that graduates are being told:

"Follow your passion, chart your own course, march to the beat of your own drummer, follow your dreams and find yourself. This is the litany of expressive individualism, which is still the dominant note in American culture."

He continues:

"The graduates are also told to pursue happiness and joy. But, of course, when you read a biography of someone you admire, it’s rarely the things that made them happy that compel your admiration. It’s the things they did to court unhappiness — the things they did that were arduous and miserable, which sometimes cost them friends and aroused hatred. It’s excellence, not happiness, that we admire most."

We all want the best for our children. But what if it turns out that providing them with the best of everything isn't the answer? What if allowing them to experience some of the struggles that life invariably contains, actually helps them?

Last night, we went to the school picnic of the middle school that daughter D will attend next year. The school has a 71% poverty rate, so most of our neighbors choose to attend a private school, or open-enroll to another public middle school.

But while we were there, we met a group of 7th graders who went down to New Orleans to do an incredible service learning project. We also met a really neat young man who demonstrated his complicated science fair project in both English and Spanish. (Something I certainly could not do....either the science or the Spanish!)

Finally, we headed downtown to the interfaith coalition solidarity singalong.

I know there will be enormous obstacles in the upcoming year. There will continue to be unique challenges at a high-poverty school.

But standing with my fellow Madisonians at the Capitol last night, singing "We shall not be moved" and "Solidarity Forever," it felt, for a few minutes, like we were part of a community that valued the rights of all citizens over the individual happiness of a select few. I felt hope.

David Brooks should come a sing a few verses with us.

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