Monday, January 31, 2005

they're back

It is a new semester and so the kids who were expelled earlier in the year are back. I don't know the politics behind that but I know that we again have kids banging on our doors and howling in the halls. Today when I finally couldn't take the noise anymore I stepped into the hall and a kid was hiding in a nook next to my door and he jumped out and screamed in my face and scared the hell out of me.
I'd gotten complacent. But I'm also not brand new anymore and I cannot just sit in my room ignoring the hallwalkers while my students are being assaulted by them. It's more than foolishness. They're trying to tear us apart again. And I can't sit silently by. But I have to be careful.

Melanie


Tuesday, January 18, 2005

rocks and boats and a river

I got my new classes today, two writing classes and an English III class. I have a lot to say. I even brought some of today's writing home with me to include here in this blog. But I'm not ready this evening to talk about that. Another, more pointed story wrote itself today.
Today I finally unburied my box of rocks from under the untouched boxes of workbooks against my wall and I opened it. There are a lot of rocks, and shells, and sticks that got loose from beaver dams, with the tooth marks, things I've been collecting all my life, things that just jump into my path. Or maybe I jump into their's. I don't know. One of my former students, LB, the girl who is writing a book about her life, came to visit me in my classroom after classes were done and she looked in the box and loved a few things she saw. She told me a story about finding conchs somewhere on a beach and being amazed at how big the shells were and that animals were living inside them and that she pulled the animals out of the shell. I accidentally made a noise that she realized was me being sorry the animals died. I know she had no idea about the life inside those shells. I didn't mean to worry her or insult her. It was just a response. But she reacted to it.
Then she asked me if I wanted to go see some rocks by the river at a place where she goes a lot and I said yes and so I drove us, under her direction, to the levee where the Industrial Canal and the Mississippi River do their thing together, where the levee is a wide green expanse, where both bridges are in view (I even saw the St Claude bridge open for a boat. It's a beautiful bridge.) and we talked and walked and picked up rocks and driftwood and shells. I found a dog skeleton. She gave me a rock to remember her and the day by and I did the same. The one I gave her was a triangular quartzish pillow of a rock. Hers was an asymmetrical tan and rough rock, flattish, compact, and pocked. She threw oyster shells in the river and said she was expecting one to fly one day. I never noticed before that an oyster shell resembles a wing.
I discovered that she is a romantic, and I told her so, and so I got to teach her what that means, that people who sit on the levee and throw wing-like shells and who watch boats and birds and who notice the various skins the river wears are romantics, that people who write by rivers are romantics. Once during our conversation I heard her correct her pronunciation of a word. I realized something important, and that is, that just close proximity with another influence can have a serious effect. I suspect I affected her in this way too.
Then I brought her home. I don't want to describe the neighborhood. It's low and she doesn't belong there.

Melanie


Thursday, January 13, 2005

dancing

We gave out new schedules today (we begin following the new schedules Tuesday). It hadn't occurred to me what a day this would be. It was. The girl I've talked about several times, L the homecoming queen, the one who comes and goes, the one who refused to take my exam, the one with the father she just met, the last couple of weeks this girl has been cranky and mean and saying things like how glad she was going to be not to be in my class anymore, how sick she was of writing, etc. When she saw her new schedule she bellowed because what do you think? She's been scheduled into my writing elective (she didn't elect for it) course! I told her it was a cosmic joke. I really hope she doesn't get out of it (she said she was planning to when she was bellowing and carrying on). I don't think she will though. I think she wants the class. We'll see.
But the other stuff about the day. A few kids I don't know came by my room and held their schedules in front of me to show me that they were going to be in one of my classes. My friend across the hall told me that a kid told her he'd heard I don't fool around. A lot of kids are asking me if it's true how much writing we do. I am developing a reputation. I guess it's silly of me not to have realized it, but I hadn't realized it.
And then during my planning period, for my perspective, a boy came to the door by my desk, the door with the hole in it, and made a mildly off-color remark through the hole. He was easy to chase off. In fact, it appears that I'm finding a new necessary voice. Not a loud one, but one with eyebrows.
Some very nice news is that quite a few of my students have been taking their exams back from me and revising them again (third and fourth times for some). I decided I'd let them revise until I have to turn in grades. I've even let a few take them home. I so know their writing, and they know it. They know better than to get someone else to write it for them, and they know I know how to know. I figure I'll get some more interesting reading out of the extra time they spend revising anyway.
The girl I'd had such trouble with, who got suspended on my account, whom I offered to help get a B this quarter (I changed her F to a D last quarter to give her a chance), she didn't come through and she failed for the year. She showed her upset with awful, vile-languaged anger. And then she walked out. I let her go. I'm so sorry for her. I wanted to help her. After she left, her friend, who also failed, said the girl should take her F because she deserved it. Then this girl left to go find her upset friend. It was a bad few minutes. After they left (we all felt heavy) we turned on the television to a music video channel (I can't believe I'm admitting this in public) and, since we were all girls, we danced. LB showed us a couple of moves and we had the best time. Tomorrow we're getting pizza for our last day. By the way, this is the class with L (above) and with M who told me I'm the first white woman she's ever known, who cried in the hall that time about her writing, etc. What a class!
Oh, and LB brought me the first four chapters of the book she's writing about her life. She has a natural understanding of pacing. She's a writer. And she knows it.
It's a bittersweet time. It's good for the children to have been successful and to have learned so much and to have grown so much and to have put another credit under their belts toward graduation, and it's good to see them go on to the next thing. And it's good for me to get a new group with whom I can practice what I've learned. But I so enjoyed and loved and appreciated these children for what they taught me. Here's a for-instance (besides the obvious new dance steps). M (above), who laughs at me all the time, a girl who is full of joy, asked me today why the body laughs, why it physically reacts that way. Like I know. So I came home and found a web site with information about that (it's about nerves) and printed it and I'm bringing it to her tomorrow. Just a small example of the things my mind has become open to because of the minds at work all around me every day.
And I'm paid money for this.

Melanie


Tuesday, January 11, 2005

In Honor of Lynne Vance

Lynne Vance is a good friend of mine who is a teacher, one of the best teachers I've ever heard of, at Sumner High in the Amite-ish (not to be confused with the Amish-ish) neighborhood. Loranger?
How unclear is that?
Lynne Vance is a perceptive, generous, intelligent, loving teacher, and a great friend of mine. She's one of the best teachers I've ever heard of. She has ideas come to her like most of us have breaths. She called me around the Thanksgiving holiday and suggested a collaboration. She wanted my students to answer questions about themselves in writing and for me to mail their writing to her students so that her students could respond to my students with a piece of art and a piece of writing, which she would, in turn, mail to me. I mentioned this once before in this blog. She also wanted my students to outline their hands. My first thought was that these children of mine are way too un-childlike to consider doing such a thing, and I thought I'd be laughed out of Dodge. But Lynne was so earnest I told her I'd try. So she sent me a list of questions and I brought that to my students and asked them to do this for me. Of course they rallied, and they even outlined their hands. I mailed the stuff off to Lynne the week after the Thanksgiving holiday. She was to have her students read what my students had written and have her students make an artistic and a written rendering of the character of my students based upon what they read about them.
Saturday I received this fabulously mysterious looking package of the art and the writing. It was packed in a box from an auto-glass company. It was huge and strange and when the mail delivery lady gave it to me she said, "somebody out there must love you."
Lynne and I talked and planned about it before the package arrived and I told her I'd open it at home and figure out how to proceed after I saw what her students had done. But when I saw that great package I couldn't open it by myself. I had to let the kids see it. So I brought it to school, with absolutely no plan at hand and no idea about what would happen, and we opened it together.
What we found in there was beautiful. Her students had cut and pasted out of magazines and drawn and colored and used all kinds of art techniques on a piece of poster board, each one an attempt at expressing in visuals what they'd learned about my children from their writing, and each poster was attached to a black construction paper frame, making it that much more special. My children looked through the pile with big eyes, and I heard them say things like, "this is so beautiful," and, "this is exactly me," and, "that's my favorite color. How did they know?" and such things. I guess I had tears in my eyes all day. My children LOVED it and they felt SEEN. It was one of the sweetest days in teaching that I've ever had, and it was the brainstorm and the effort of Lynne. She is unbelievable.
What I see this doing for my students is that it causes them to take what they write seriously. (I just figured that out as I wrote here.) Lynne's students were more than an authentic audience. They were children who read what my children wrote and inferred or extrapolated my students' characters from their writing. Next time Lynne and I do this, and we're going to do it again, I'm going to make sure my students understand just how serious a thing it is to write. To be real.
Lynne's project had a serious impact on my students' learning. She brought verisimilitude to the classroom. Her project caused my students to take their writing and to take themselves seriously. My students were not writing into some empty nowhere where teachers pretend to be, but were writing to their peers and were glad for the opportunity to be real and to show who they are.
The people who were not in class that day in November when we drew our hands were very disappointed. That's another thing the project did. It made my students see that sometimes just showing up is the thing, that the potential for beautiful things like this to happen is just waiting in the wings and all we have to do is wake up and arrive.
Thank you, Lynne.

Love, Melanie

real revisited

Today is Tuesday. It surprised me to realize I hadn't written in a week. And I have a lot going on.
First, the exam. Last week I gave the children the exams to put their names on and read and think about and then I picked them up at the end of the period each day. I told them to make notes, highlight highlights of Obama's speech, make connections, outline, ask me questions, talk to each other, anything they wanted, and for the exam day I returned to each student her own marked up test. In other words, they could have gotten the whole thing together in their heads and even written it down. Four did. The rest didn't even look over the literature. I haven't read them all yet, but from what I've read so far there are a lot of low grades. But there are also four essays that Barack Obama needs to read. And I'm going to try to figure out how to get them to him. I'm also going to figure out how to include something from each of them in this blog so you can see what I mean.
THEN, today at the faculty meeting, the principal (in semi-jest) asked how many sentences are in a proper paragraph and the magic number 5 came up from someone in the English department. I actually stood up and said that's not true. It got my blood boiling. I am incensed that children's thinking is limited by such things. RM, one of the four students I mentioned above, wrote a four page essay (tiny writing too) that would take your breath away, making beautiful and original reflections and connections about America and our literature and about Obama's speech (he worked on it for four class periods and revised it extensively). I think I should make a xerox of it and take his name off of it and put it anonymously in five-sentence paragraph's mailbox and ask her to grade it. What's going to happen to him if next semester he gets this teacher for English and is told he must write five paragraph essays consisting of five sentence paragraphs? I have to warn him. But that teacher has been at our school for a long time. The students don't know that what I tell them is true. Also, I imagine that some of them could be suspicious about why I would leave a school like Mandeville High to come to a school like ours.
And now I have this very pressing issue. Our principal gave a beautiful talk about how much negative commentary there is out there and among our students and our faculty about what a bad school we have. She said the hallwalkers and fires and fights are infamous, but that no one knows about the good things that go on. I've been thinking the same thing, and I want to do something about it. Yesterday in the paper there was an article about Woodson Middle School, and I want to tell our story. I am toying with the idea of telling our principal about this blog. I've been afraid she'd think I was being negative, but I don't think I have been at all. I've been just telling it how it is. And I love this school. I love it. And I'm proud of our principal and I think she's a brave and generous woman. But I don't know what to do.
I wanted to say one more thing about RM. This guy comes into class late most days and needs to leave a few minutes early. He just has to have that control over his life, over his education. Whatever. For whatever reason, I just have to let him come and go. When he's in class he does things like writes these exquisite essays. He's the guy I've mentioned in here a couple of times. He's the guy who must keep things real.

Melanie



Monday, January 03, 2005

I love final exams

So today I put all the 75 terms and words on the board. To these brave souls' credit, they did not shudder or whine. And we just started going through them and they took notes. When we got to "beacon," I stopped for us to think about what Mr Obama might have meant about America being a "beacon of opportunity." They jumped right to it. These children are unbelievable. They understand metaphor as though it's as natural a part of their language as A is for America. Then I asked them to try to connect Martin Luther King, Jr's letter from the jail in Birmingham to the term beacon of opportunity. It makes me tear up to report that they were able to say how they see King as their beacon of opportunity and hope.
Being a teacher is beyond profound.
The four page final exam (which I'm attaching below) consists of this: a revised excerpt from the blog entry of yesterday (I thought it would help them understand what I'm shooting for), a page of details about requirements and some suggestions for prompts, and the two pages of Obama's speech. I'm going to let them see it tomorrow or Wednesday, not to keep, just to read in class so they will know where I'm coming from, and I'll pick them up at the end of the period.
We did have some hallwalkers third period. Eventually their bs at my door got the better of me and I stepped outside and chased them off, the little chickens. Then, how's this for reversal, my strategy for countering further attacks was to keep my door wide open and address the class from the doorway. The hallwalkers walked by about six more times, but didn't bother me or my children anymore. However, at the very end of the period, when I'd relaxed my vigilance, two of them came in the open door. I asked them if they didn't have anywhere better to be and they didn't answer me and I said well, you see I'm not going to let you steal from my students, and one of them asked my whole class if he was stealing from them and my students said yes. What a day.
During my planning period I took a student whose fourth period teacher was absent into the computer lab to teach her how to use the internet. After school, when I was riding my bike past the gym and the coach, he said the office had been looking for me fourth period to cover a class. He told me I should clear it up in the office.
Ha!!!
I felt a lot of love today, going both ways.

Melanie



Here are pages one and two of the exam: (3 and 4 are the speech itself)

Page One: (Revised from the blog to speak directly to my students)

I just read Barack Obama’s keynote address again, and although it was his speech asking Americans to vote for John Kerry, that's not the reason we loved it four and a half months ago. His speech addresses the hope of America, the potential, the ideals America embodies. He reminds us of the values on which our country was created. And he believes in them. He believes in America. So I was thinking, what if, for the exam, I spend this week putting on the board about 75 words and terms that I found in the speech that you won't know, and ones that will lead us to thinking about what America is, and we spend some days talking about them and then for the exam, ask you to choose x number of pieces of other American literature we've read and look at what those authors say about values, and somehow have you address Mr Obama's speech. We spent a few weeks recently on that project which caused you to remember everything we've read, from which you took notes, so you've somewhat prepared yourselves, and you still have all those notes and that big researched essay you wrote. I love the idea that this time around you've read and thought a lot more about America than you had in August when we first read the speech. You will have some intelligent things to say based on things that you've read. You have no idea yet how significant it is to have read some of the philosophy of Ralph Waldo Emerson, for example, and Martin Luther King, Jr. You have certainly known about King, but you didn't understand how he achieved his greatness. You didn't understand about his quiet civil disobedience, and that Thoreau had done it before him, and in the same way. Now you do because you read King's letter from jail and Thoreau's "Civil Disobedience."
One day, one moment, it's going to hit you that education is power. Barack Obama says:"There's not a liberal America and a conservative America -- there's the United States of America. There's not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there's the United States of America. The pundits like to slice-and-dice our country into Red States and Blue States, Red States for Republicans, Blue States for Democrats. But I've got news for them, too. We worship an awesome God in the Blue States, and we don't like federal agents poking around our libraries in the Red States. We coach Little League in the Blue States and have gay friends in the Red States. There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq and patriots who supported it. We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America."

and,
"If there's a child on the south side of Chicago who can't read, that matters to me, even if it's not my child. If there's a senior citizen somewhere who can't pay for her prescription and has to choose between medicine and the rent, that makes my life poorer, even if it's not my grandmother. If there's an Arab American family being rounded up without benefit of an attorney or due process, that threatens my civil liberties. It's that fundamental belief -- I am my brother's keeper, I am my sister's keeper -- that makes this country work." In the well-known speech that Chief Seattle is supposed to have made, about the Earth and all the parts of it being all of our brothers and sisters, that if something happens to someone we don't know it still affects the web of life, the whole, and therefore each of us, he says the same thing. We read Chief Seattle's speech in class too. And there's the literature of the pilgrims and the slaves and the puritans that we read. There's so much, yet, it all is about us. I think literature, in this case, has gone beyond its aesthetic significance and has taken its place to show us something about who we are. And Obama brings it all together without making reference to a single writer who came before him. It's amazing. I want you, my students, to be amazed with yourselves. And I think you will be. I'll say it again: I feel so honored to be the one this time to help you see what you're capable of.
Melanie Anne Plesh


Page Two:

Final exam January 2005 English III (25% of your grade)
The ultimate goal is for you to write an essay (two drafts) in which you respond to Mr Obama using information you learned from the literature we’ve read all these four and a half months. As I explained in the previous letter, his speech deals with American values, hopes, opportunity, all like that. So does all the literature we’ve read in the past, but not in exactly the same way. Your job is to show a connection with Mr Obama or an understanding of Mr Obama about values, because you have been educated in the literature of America which deals with values. In our classes we have had countless discussions about the meaning of the things we read, and how what we read shows something about the American psyche. This is an exam. You are to show me that the literature and the discussions registered.
The first draft can be as rough and raw as you like. I suggest attempting a free write. Then turn the free write into a rough outline, then write it again, carefully, watching that you have used the "to be" verb correctly, that you used " ‘s" for possessives, that you make plurals end in "s" (usually), etc. I will grade your exam based on two things: the content, that is, that you show me that you understand the literature we read, and the form of the essay, that is, that you execute it well.
I have three ideas to help you. One, you might consider writing Mr Obama a letter instead of an essay (they’re almost the same) or you can write a speech (also the same as an essay). Number three is this: what if I were to find a way to get some of your essays to Mr Obama himself? Consider that as a possible audience.
Some prompts that come to me:
I Am An American Too
Americans Have Always Had the Values You Espouse, Mr Obama
The Americans Who Have Come Before Us Created A Great Society (you will make reference to his points about our American society and connect them with the other literature.)
You Are Too Optimistic, Mr Obama
You Are Too Pessimistic, Mr Obama
(Choose a line or phrase or paragraph from the speech to center your essay around or to agree with or to refute)
You Are Right On, Mr Obama. Your Speech Reminds Me Of...
I Wish You’d Known... (name a writer)
Good luck. I admire you and I have loved working with you. Thank you for bringing your minds and hearts forth.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Barack Obama revisited

It's Sunday evening and according to my calendar I am expected to turn in a copy of my exam to our vice principal by Wednesday. On the following Monday exams begin. I love final exams. I make my final exam reflect the work we've done for the whole year. This is another reason why I like the block schedule. The first day of the school year was just this past August. We finished a year's worth of American literature in four and a half months. The Barack Obama speech, which I read to the children the second day of school, is still near the front of their minds. It won't take much to remind them of it.
So I decided I'm going to try to make my exam centered around Obama's speech. (I'm copying it into this blog entry at the end.) I just read it again, and although it was his speech asking Americans to vote for John Kerry, that's not the reason I love it, nor the reason the students loved it four and a half months ago. His speech addresses the hope of America, the potential, the ideals America embodies. He reminds us of the values on which our country was created. And he believes in them. He believes in America. So I was thinking, what if, for the exam, I spend this week putting on the board about 75 words and terms that I found in the speech that the students won't know, and ones that will lead us to thinking about what America is, and we spend some days talking about them (boring and pedantic and lecture-like as this may seem, it isn't, and it has been working for us) and then read the speech again at the end of the week, after we've discussed the terms (terms like values, legacy, forbearers, hard reality, doors of opportunity, beacon of freedom and opportunity, abiding faith, tolerant America, inalienable rights, independence, constitutional rights, devotion, solemn obligation, individualism, American saga, civil liberties, fundamental belief, patriots, allegiance, optimism, audacity), and then for the exam, ask the students to choose x number of pieces of other American literature we've read and look at what they say about values, and somehow have them address Mr Obama's speech. We spent a few weeks recently on that project which caused them to remember everything we've read, from which they took notes, so they've somewhat prepared themselves, and they still have all those notes, and they still have the big researched essay they wrote. And I love the idea of coming full circle.
And I also love the idea that this time around, they've read and thought a lot more about America than they had in August when we first read the speech, and they will have some intelligent things to say based on things that they've read. It moves me to realize that they have no idea how significant and telling it is about them that they know some of the philosophy of Ralph Waldo Emerson, for example, and Martin Luther King, Jr. They have certainly known about King, but they didn't understand how he achieved his greatness. They didn't understand about his quiet civil disobedience, and they didn't understand that Thoreau had done it before him, and in the same way. Now they do because they read King's letter from jail and Thoreau's "Civil Disobedience." It blows my mind that they don't yet realize what they know. It makes me feel overjoyed because one day, one moment, it's going to hit them that they're getting educated and what they're capable of, and they're going to recognize the power of that, the way this education further involves them in the world. Barack Obama says:

"There's not a liberal America and a conservative America -- there's the United States of America. There's not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there's the United States of America. The pundits like to slice-and-dice our country into Red States and Blue States, Red States for Republicans, Blue States for Democrats. But I've got news for them, too. We worship an awesome God in the Blue States, and we don't like federal agents poking around our libraries in the Red States. We coach Little League in the Blue States and have gay friends in the Red States. There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq and patriots who supported it. We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America."

and,

"If there's a child on the south side of Chicago who can't read, that matters to me, even if it's not my child. If there's a senior citizen somewhere who can't pay for her prescription and has to choose between medicine and the rent, that makes my life poorer, even if it's not my grandmother. If there's an Arab American family being rounded up without benefit of an attorney or due process, that threatens my civil liberties. It's that fundamental belief -- I am my brother's keeper, I am my sister's keeper -- that makes this country work."

In the well-known speech that Chief Seattle is supposed to have made, about the Earth and all the parts of it being all of our brothers and sisters, that if something happens to someone we don't know it still affects the web of life, the whole, and therefore each of us, he says the same thing. We read Chief Seattle's speech in class too.
And there's the literature of the pilgrims and the slaves and the puritans that we read.
There's so much, yet, it all is about us. I think literature, in this case, has gone beyond its aesthetic significance and has taken its place to show us something about who we are. And Obama brings it all together without making reference to a single writer who came before him. It's amazing.
And I want my students to be amazed with themselves. And I think they will be.
I'll say it again: I feel so honored to be the one this time to help them see what they're capable of.

Melanie



The text of the keynote address by Barack Obama, Democratic U.S. Senate candidate from Illinois, as prepared for delivery at the Democratic National Convention in Boston:

On behalf of the great state of Illinois, crossroads of a nation, land of Lincoln, let me express my deep gratitude for the privilege of addressing this convention. Tonight is a particular honor for me because, let's face it, my presence on this stage is pretty unlikely. My father was a foreign student, born and raised in a small village in Kenya. He grew up herding goats, went to school in a tin-roof shack. His father, my grandfather, was a cook, a domestic servant.
But my grandfather had larger dreams for his son. Through hard work and perseverance my father got a scholarship to study in a magical place: America, which stood as a beacon of freedom and opportunity to so many who had come before. While studying here, my father met my mother. She was born in a town on the other side of the world, in Kansas. Her father worked on oil rigs and farms through most of the Depression. The day after Pearl Harbor he signed up for duty, joined Patton's army and marched across Europe. Back home, my grandmother raised their baby and went to work on a bomber assembly line. After the war, they studied on the GI Bill, bought a house through FHA, and moved west in search of opportunity.
And they, too, had big dreams for their daughter, a common dream, born of two continents. My parents shared not only an improbable love; they shared an abiding faith in the possibilities of this nation. They would give me an African name, Barack, or "blessed," believing that in a tolerant America your name is no barrier to success. They imagined me going to the best schools in the land, even though they weren't rich, because in a generous America you don't have to be rich to achieve your potential. They are both passed away now. Yet, I know that, on this night, they look down on me with pride.
I stand here today, grateful for the diversity of my heritage, aware that my parents' dreams live on in my precious daughters. I stand here knowing that my story is part of the larger American story, that I owe a debt to all of those who came before me, and that, in no other country on earth, is my story even possible. Tonight, we gather to affirm the greatness of our nation, not because of the height of our skyscrapers, or the power of our military, or the size of our economy. Our pride is based on a very simple premise, summed up in a declaration made over two hundred years ago, "We hold these truths to he self-evident, that all men are created equal. That they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights. That among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."
That is the true genius of America, a faith in the simple dreams of its people, the insistence on small miracles. That we can tuck in our children at night and know they are fed and clothed and safe from harm. That we can say what we think, write what we think, without hearing a sudden knock on the door. That we can have an idea and start our own business without paying a bribe or hiring somebody's son. That we can participate in the political process without fear of retribution, and that our votes will he counted — or at least, most of the time.
This year, in this election, we are called to reaffirm our values and commitments, to hold them against a hard reality and see how we are measuring up, to the legacy of our forbearers, and the promise of future generations. And fellow Americans — Democrats, Republicans, Independents — I say to you tonight: we have more work to do. More to do for the workers I met in Galesburg, Illinois, who are losing their union jobs at the Maytag plant that's moving to Mexico, and now are having to compete with their own children for jobs that pay seven bucks an hour. More to do for the father I met who was losing his job and choking back tears, wondering how he would pay $4,500 a month for the drugs his son needs without the health benefits he counted on. More to do for the young woman in East St. Louis, and thousands more like her, who has the grades, has the drive, has the will, but doesn't have the money to go to college.
Don't get me wrong. The people I meet in small towns and big cities, in diners and office parks, they don't expect government to solve all their problems. They know they have to work hard to get ahead and they want to. Go into the collar counties around Chicago, and people will tell you they don't want their tax money wasted by a welfare agency or the Pentagon. Go into any inner city neighborhood, and folks will tell you that government alone can't teach kids to learn. They know that parents have to parent, that children can't achieve unless we raise their expectations and turn off the television sets and eradicate the slander that says a black youth with a book is acting white. No, people don't expect government to solve all their problems. But they sense, deep in their bones, that with just a change in priorities, we can make sure that every child in America has a decent shot at life, and that the doors of opportunity remain open to all. They know we can do better. And they want that choice.
In this election, we offer that choice. Our party has chosen a man to lead us who embodies the best this country has to offer. That man is John Kerry. John Kerry understands the ideals of community, faith, and sacrifice, because they've defined his life. From his heroic service in Vietnam to his years as prosecutor and lieutenant governor, through two decades in the United States Senate, he has devoted himself to this country. Again and again, we've seen him make tough choices when easier ones were available. His values and his record affirm what is best in us.
John Kerry believes in an America where hard work is rewarded. So instead of offering tax breaks to companies shipping jobs overseas, he'll offer them to companies creating jobs here at home. John Kerry believes in an America where all Americans can afford the same health coverage our politicians in Washington have for themselves. John Kerry believes in energy independence, so we aren't held hostage to the profits of oil companies or the sabotage of foreign oil fields. John Kerry believes in the constitutional freedoms that have made our country the envy of the world, and he will never sacrifice our basic liberties nor use faith as a wedge to divide us. And John Kerry believes that in a dangerous world, war must be an option, but it should never he the first option.
A while back, I met a young man named Shamus at the VFW Hall in East Moline, Illinois. He was a good-looking kid, six-two or six-three, clear-eyed, with an easy smile. He told me he'd joined the Marines and was heading to Iraq the following week. As I listened to him explain why he'd enlisted, his absolute faith in our country and its leaders, his devotion to duty and service, I thought this young man was all any of us might hope for in a child. But then I asked myself: Are we serving Shamus as well as he was serving us? I thought of more than 900 service men and women, sons and daughters, husbands and wives, friends and neighbors, who will not be returning to their hometowns. I thought of families I had met who were struggling to get by without a loved one's full income, or whose loved ones had returned with a limb missing or with nerves shattered, but who still lacked long-term health benefits because they were reservists. When we send our young men and women into harm's way, we have a solemn obligation not to fudge the numbers or shade the truth about why they're going, to care for their families while they're gone, to tend to the soldiers upon their return, and to never ever go to war without enough troops to win the war, secure the peace, and earn the respect of the world.
Now let me be clear. We have real enemies in the world. These enemies must be found. They must be pursued and they must be defeated. John Kerry knows this. And just as Lieutenant Kerry did not hesitate to risk his life to protect the men who served with him in Vietnam, President Kerry will not hesitate one moment to use our military might to keep America safe and secure. John Kerry believes in America. And he knows it's not enough for just some of us to prosper. For alongside our famous individualism, there's another ingredient in the American saga.
A belief that we are connected as one people. If there's a child on the south side of Chicago who can't read, that matters to me, even if it's not my child. If there's a senior citizen somewhere who can't pay for her prescription and has to choose between medicine and the rent, that makes my life poorer, even if it's not my grandmother. If there's an Arab American family being rounded up without benefit of an attorney or due process, that threatens my civil liberties. It's that fundamental belief — I am my brother's keeper, I am my sister's keeper — that makes this country work. It's what allows us to pursue our individual dreams, yet still come together as a single American family. "E pluribus unum." Out of many, one.
Yet even as we speak, there are those who are preparing to divide us, the spin masters and negative ad peddlers who embrace the politics of anything goes. Well, I say to them tonight, there's not a liberal America and a conservative America — there's the United States of America. There's not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there's the United States of America. The pundits like to slice-and-dice our country into Red States and Blue States; Red States for Republicans, Blue States for Democrats. But I've got news for them, too. We worship an awesome God in the Blue States, and we don't like federal agents poking around our libraries in the Red States. We coach Little League in the Blue States and have gay friends in the Red States. There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq and patriots who supported it. We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America.
In the end, that's what this election is about. Do we participate in a politics of cynicism or a politics of hope? John Kerry calls on us to hope. John Edwards calls on us to hope. I'm not talking about blind optimism here — the almost willful ignorance that thinks unemployment will go away if we just don't talk about it, or the health care crisis will solve itself if we just ignore it. No, I'm talking about something more substantial. It's the hope of slaves sitting around a fire singing freedom songs; the hope of immigrants setting out for distant shores; the hope of a young naval lieutenant bravely patrolling the Mekong Delta; the hope of a millworker's son who dares to defy the odds; the hope of a skinny kid with a funny name who believes that America has a place for him, too. The audacity of hope!
In the end, that is God's greatest gift to us, the bedrock of this nation; the belief in things not seen; the belief that there are better days ahead. I believe we can give our middle class relief and provide working families with a road to opportunity. I believe we can provide jobs to the jobless, homes to the homeless, and reclaim young people in cities across America from violence and despair. I believe that as we stand on the crossroads of history, we can make the right choices, and meet the challenges that face us. America!
Tonight, if you feel the same energy I do, the same urgency I do, the same passion I do, the same hopefulness I do — if we do what we must do, then I have no doubt that all across the country, from Florida to Oregon, from Washington to Maine, the people will rise up in November, and John Kerry will be sworn in as president, and John Edwards will be sworn in as vice president, and this country will reclaim its promise, and out of this long political darkness a brighter day will come. Thank you and God bless you.