The American Dream?

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Lately, Patti and I have been teaching a unit on Of Mice & Men. Because we wanted students not to put their focus on [spoiler alert] George shooting Lennie at the end or on Lennie’s obvious mental retardation, we came at teaching the book a different way. We chose not to actually read the book, but instead teach the background historical information about the Great Depression and migrant workers and have a class discussion on whether the American Dream is still a viability in our nation. We wanted students to then watch the film (the 1992 version, starring Gary Sinise and John Malkovich) through the lens of the attainability (0r lack thereof) of the American Dream. Then, they needed to take the information they found in watching the movie and write about their own ideas of the American Dream, and whether it’s something they can ever expect to attain themselves.

For some reason, I have been hearing and reading a lot of information about the American Dream. I heard Suze Orman talking about her views on it on NPR, and I have been thinking about it a lot in light of my own situation as an educator. Thinking about whether the American Dream is a viability hits home for me as well.

Even just a couple of generations ago, it was possible to find a good, stable job that supports you until you retire, live off of your retirement savings and/or pension, and not have to worry about money after retirement (at least, not every day). But that is not something that is within reach of most Americans anymore. There are many reasons for the shift, but the fact is that there is one. I’m not sure I have any answers about it. But I am sure that it worries me some and it makes me wonder what kind of hope will be left for the generations that follow mine.

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6 responses »

  1. Interesting blog, Dannielle. I have a few thoughts.
    First, I believe the preferred term for Lennie’s disability has changed:
    http://www.eric.ed.gov/ERICWebPortal/search/detailmini.jsp?_nfpb=true&_&ERICExtSearch_SearchValue_0=EJ758956&ERICExtSearch_SearchType_0=no&accno=EJ758956

    Second, I think that the American Dream is and has always been a myth (the myth of meritocracy.) Tim Wise was at PLU last night and was amazing. He says it more eloquently than I, but the point is that the people finding “good stable jobs until they retire” historically have not been women, people of color, people with disabilities, etc. Here’s a bit more info:
    http://ericstoller.com/blog/2007/07/01/the-meritocracy-myth/

    I do think that if working class and middle class people worked together, we could form a more equitable society and the very wealthy would not so easily get wealthier, but the myth of meritocracy serves to discourage us from acting together.

  2. Hi Joelle!

    Thanks for the updated term. I will change it in my blog.

    I saw that Tim Wise was at PLU and I would have liked to have been there, but I just can’t seem to do anything in the evenings anymore. I’m too exhausted by the time the day is over! I’ll take a look at the blog you linked and read some more.

    I wonder, though, if it’s possible for the working class and middle class to work together when so many people see things so differently. Is there a common ground that can be found to tie us all together for a common good? The obvious would be the want of a better life, but the reality is that everyone perceives the “better life” to be something slightly different. I would love to see this be a reality, though.

  3. Danielle,

    I like your approach to teaching here. But, regarding your concern for finding a stable job, etc.–when I taught college, students tended to have that same idea for their life. I taught writing classes, so my opportunities for this were few, but I always wondered how in the world I could contribute to their preparation for this different world. My life went in no way as my parents’ did after I graduated. My students will have to fight for their own place even more, I suspect. To what degree do we need to shift our teaching to prepare students for the insane amount of information out there? For the endless possibilities paired with endless potential for downfalls? I’ve been thinking about that for years. Makes me want to move to a farm, raise livestock, collect eggs in the morning, and go for long walks with puppies.

    • Hi there! Thanks for reading. I really struggle with how best to reach students where they are at. It’s something that I think we will be seeing more and more as educators. I have been talking about it with colleagues lately, and we have noticed that there is much more of a disparity between the differences in generation. I wonder all the time if there was this much of a gap from my parents’ generation to my own as there is between mine and my students/children. I think that because there is so much of a gap, it makes it increasingly more difficult to relate. It also makes me afraid for the future and gives me less hope. Which is not a good thing for an optimist. 🙂

    • An interesting read for me. I’m a recent graduate living in Dublin, Ireland and have fallen into teaching. Though I am passionate for teaching and for my students, I still have the sense of some dream disappearing from under me. Ireland – the land of saints and scholars has been hit by a similar crushing of dreams.

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