It’s the Fourth of July, that patriotic holiday when we fire up the barbecue, get together with family and friends, wave American flags and set off fireworks. As a teacher, it is also that perfect mid-point of the summer where I can look back on all the relaxation and sleep I’ve caught up on and look forward to completing all of those summer projects I’ve put off.
As a teacher, though, I can’t help but take some time on this day to reflect on the American Dream and what it means to me and my students. When I ask them what the American Dream is, they often say something vague about being successful and then launch into a discussion of their specific dreams. For some, their version of the American Dream is to become a famous NBA player or rap star. For others, it is to get a better education and have a better chance at life than their parents did. For all, it seems to be a very specific and individual manifestation of the concept.
My students are correct; the American Dream itself is hard to define, and that’s because, for centuries, it has been just what they describe: to be successful and happy, whatever that means to you. For me, it is having the ability to pursue both my teaching and writing careers while living in a beautiful house with a great husband and our adopted dog. For anyone else, it is something different. That is what makes the American Dream so elusive and so special; it can be anything to anyone.
I have to believe that the tie that binds everyone’s individual ideas of the American Dream together is education. We live in a great country where education is standardized and, for the most part, free. In this country, a good education is a basic human right. Education is the way our country and our society progresses. It’s not just about formal education in schools, either. Without learning, our society comes to a standstill. Without education in any form, we no longer have progressive thinkers. We no longer have social activism. We no longer have fantastic sites that facilitate that activism. It is because this is a country in which free speech is championed and defended that our education can lead us to social progress and activism. It is because this is a country in which we have been taught that we can make a difference that we are able to change this world for the better.
Education, if it’s done right, is not about teaching students things they didn’t know before. It’s a little bit about that, but that isn’t the ultimate goal. The end goal of education is to help students be successful and realize their version of the American Dream, to teach students how to think and how to be activists in their own ways.
As a country, we have a long way to go, to be sure, but this Fourth of July, I think we also have a lot to be grateful for, and it’s OK to celebrate that at your barbecues this week.
What is your version of the American Dream?
Photo Credit: mrsdkrebs