21st Century Citizenry – Part II of II

Dissolving the Collective Noun

By Jorge D. H. Prosperi

So how do we as a society begin to dissolve socially constructed labels and collective nouns? Are there solutions? Yes! There is nothing or no one stopping us other than ourselves . . . that is . . .

The pursuit of a Quality of Life
of Citizens . . . for Citizens . . . by Citizens

The price to achieve such a goal is not new. America has always been faced with critical questions and challenges throughout its history regarding Citizenry, Citizens and Citizenship relentlessly unearthing and assessing constructed social -isms and phobias.

The process has always been a painful undertaking requiring courage, sacrifices, resiliency, use of intellect, reason and a selfless advocacy to not repeat the same social pathologies on behalf of future generations, regardless of zip codes.

I posit that the concept of Citizenry, Citizenship and Citizen are founded and based on the principles of selflessness – an altruism encompassing and defining what it means to be human. In other words, relentlessly focusing on the quality of life of each human being regardless of constructed labels and collective nouns.

At this point we could debate whether selflessness is ever selfless and authentically free of self-interest. Let us consider walking on a boulevard and seeing a homeless person with a cup in hand. We have some choices to make. We can walk on by without acknowledging presence. We can think, “Get a job – most likely will buy booz or drugs with it!”

We can put some paper or change in the cup . . . making her/him feel a little better and perhaps making us feel much better . . . or we can make our contribution and think . . . “Wonder what circumstances led this wo/man to such consequences . . . there for the grace of . . . is there any connection between our presence?”

As a young novice educator I noticed that schools would pause before Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas with Service Clubs hosting competition drives gathering cans of food, clothing, toys and cash. It was a default reaction before the holiday by the school as if it was now time to become aware – react to otherness and difference.

Huge decorated cardboard canisters would line school halls – filled to the brim with donated new items. Teacher, students and parents would create baskets for “those people on the other side of town who needed our help.” The packages at some point would be picked up or delivered. Most often delivered because where that part of town was located.

I thought and questioned whether the entire event was for those who would be receiving the items or those who were participating? Something was missing – something having to do with authenticity of meaning and purpose.

Please, please do not misunderstand my context . . . stay with me.

As a principal, my perspective changed. I knew the intent and supported it. The school embraced the immense two weeks of school spirit – it had a potential for genuine altruism. But we could – needed to do better. Instead of just having children bring items – we wanted to also bring along their minds, hearts and spirits.

This was a time when the entire school could pause to deal with the realities – the socio-cultural-political reasons for homelessness and those people called “the poor.” What were the circumstances and consequences?

Yes – get involved – but first – please define involvement. Please take a closer look at advocacy, selflessness, altruism . . . make sure that this is not really about YOU feeling good for a couple of hours and then going back to being untouched.

Keep in mind that “those people” live their lives as you do 24/7 – 365. The state of being of their lives does not begin nor pause each holiday season. Their circumstances and reasons why continue.

To donate food cans, gloves, scarfs, new mountain bikes, and a corporate check was not atypical for our students and their parents. Yes, this was a suburban school with lots of affluent white non-poor families – some homes with elevators – families living “fail-safe” lives.

All that youngsters had to do was ask dad or mom to cough up some ready made altruism and the community service bins would be full within days. Competition between classes was marketed throughout the school. The competition became a motivation for moms and dads to cough up a little louder.

But not so fast . . . let’s pause as a school . . . months before the holidays. Let’s pause as a learning community and deal with why we may want to connect with other communities across towns . . . for that matter . . . all over the state . . . yea . . . even those rural areas up north that we tend to think of never needing food stamps . . . free of poverty . . . free of economic blight.

Let’s make sure that we don’t apply a “color” to the needy. Let’s make sure that the Student Council has a school assembly on socio-economic reasons for poverty . . . let’s do some community homework – some data-based-knowledge research on realities.

Let’s get the Parents Association to do their fair share in providing some education. Let’s have some speakers who are doing the non-profit work on a daily basis rather than 2 or 3 times a year. Let’s connect with schools and have some cultural exchanges so that students can see and listen to each other – their community issues and advocacies. How did those issues differ – how were they the same?

Let’s ask our Social Studies teachers to unearth some history – some social context regarding poverty in the USA. Let’s have the English, Art and Music Departments deal with the subject matter through writing, art and song. Let’s have our athletic teams come up with unique community service projects per team – yea! – wear those uniforms with added pride.

Let’s get the Mathematics and Science department do their share and crunch some data, numbers and findings on national nutrition and diseases that impact all economic levels and constituencies. Why are some zip codes more at risk regarding heart disease and diabetes? What are we doing as a society – as citizens to confront such trends? What professions are addressing such social issues? Invite alumni who can answer such questions.

Here is a crazy idea! How about Community Awareness and Service as a 4 year High School Graduating Requirement . . . and 4 years at the college level . . .

Yes, let’s make sure that before Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas we already know reasons why . . . approach altruism with knowledge, historical context, social awareness, critical analysis . . . give each of us a chance . . .

. . . a chance to one day approach a homeless fellow human being huddled in a corner of a corner . . . with cup in hand . . . and pause . . . with reflection . . . before reaching into our pocket or purse . . . to do this because at an early age we began to understand why . . . and that it was not about self . . . but inherent and embedded in our mutual humanness . . . and citizenship . . .