Mary Beth and I visit Miami University, Oxford, Ohio

April 3rd, 2009

Mary Beth and I had a wonderful time at Miami University in Ohio earlier this week. We spent time with ten classes and other groups in both at the main campus at Oxford, and also at the Hamilton campus.

This was organized by my old high school pal, Clyde - Dr. Brown. His wife Gayle helped get us where we were going, and we stayed pretty busy for the two days.

We started out in a room supplied with juice and pastries, talking with graduate students in the mass media and politics.

Mary Beth talked about First Amendment rights, and how we felt compelled to use what power and courage we might have, even though it may seem small.

I told them about my hope to live both within my logical self, and also within my creative and passionate self, a sort of right-brain/left-brain integration. I was careful to inquire first whether they felt comfortable with such language, and they assured me that they were.

Schema-Root helps me with this. I feel good doing something that I feel able to do. I read a lot of news about our world.  I handed out my cards.

Next we spoke before several hundred students, an audience combining Dr. Gus Jones’  American politics and diversity class and Dr. Clyde Brown’s general political science prerequisite class. Clyde Brown gave us very warm introductions, recalling the many good times we spent together back in Des Moines over 40 years ago, when he and I used to hang out together quite a bit.

I sketched out a historical thumbnail sketch of the armband events - how the idea of the armband wearing developed from a conversation by a busload of protestors returning from the 1965 Thanksgiving demonstration in Washington, DC. Then that the high school students among us took that back to a Unitarian youth group that we belonged to.

We got a good reception, and I handed out many more cards.

Of course they always treat one well on such occasions. Lunch with faculty and administrators was no exeption. Interesting and interested people, they were. I explained how I had wanted to drop out of society in the 1970’s, because of the war, and the arms race, and the polution. I lived in a truck for several years - a 1941 Ford small delivery truck. Cherished memories, now.

In the afternoon we talked again to two classes combined, this time Dr. Jones Constitutional Rights and Liberties class together with Clyde’s introductory political science course.

We began Tuesday with an informal morning get-together with several pre-law and honors students. There the discussion ranged around issues of inspiring others to civic action. We talked about social justice, how such consciousness may possibly be developed or discovered within the often seemingly apathetic student body. These questions were coming from the students. It felt good to be able to access some of my own ponderings about these issues over the years.

Next we drove 20 miles to the Hamilton campus, to a sort of combination classroom/delicatessen setup at the Egghead Cafe. This is owned by the University, but is located in a regular office building in downtown Hamilton. Before the event proper I spoke with the folks who had set things up, and learned of their efforts engage the University more with the townspeople of Hamilton. There is such a great potential for cultural exchange by both the U. and the local folks. I wish them the best.

The students then arrived - several classes of high school students, and the general public arrived too, as invited guests. I met several senior citizens, people from town there who seemed pretty appreciative of my comments regarding the peace movement, how we had grown up within it.

I told of our parents’ involvement with the civil rights movement, how as a Methodist minister he had been asked to leave two churches where he had been preaching. I told of the one black family in a small town in Iowa, who were not allowed into the public swimming pool. When the church youth group brought this matter before the city council, requesting that the law be corrected, there was hesitancy and resistance. Our mild-mannered father was accused of being divisive in the community and his employment was not renewed. And then a similar reaction occurred with his next congregation. Several of us had black friends who joined us at church. We participated in some demonstrations. And again, our father’s employment was not renewed.

That was when he was found by the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), a Quaker organization. Our father was offered the job of being the “Peace Education Director” for the AFSC central regional office in Des Moines. It was a wonderful job for him. He organized seminars and family camps where world affairs experts gave lectures, and there were book tables with a wide variety of good literature about current events.

One student asked our opinion of Obama. I said I felt good about having an intelligent and articulate president, and that sentiment drew a show of support from many in the audience. But I offered my opinion that Obama’s election is more a watershed event for the Civil Rights Movement. To me, at present, I do not see any sign that Obama represents an achievement for the Peace Movement. Rather, there is a sense that his military adventures represent, pretty much, more of the same old thing. The missile strikes into Pakistan, and the killing of innocents are very sad. I was reminded of something Obama said about the need for citizens to development constituencies for policies, if we are to expect the politicians to support our viewpoints. There is a certain logic to that. “Where the people lead, the politicians will follow.”

Filled up with sandwiches after.

Mary Beth asked what the hot issues were in their schools, and they said it was (school) uniforms. I offered my opinion on the subject, which is negative. School uniforms scare me, plain and simple. We do not need more uniformity, we need respect for each other in our diversity.

Then we were off to Talawanda high school, in Oxford. A nice bunch of kids, bright. Mary Beth had five of them holding colored tee shirts representing the five main principles of the First Amendment. As she went along she told them what percentage of the general public knew each one. All shockingly low! These kids were staying after school to talk with us. (Though it was also going to save them writing the paper that would be due from any who missed it, ha.) These are truely the leaders of tomorrow. I always try to stress to high school students how important it is to be active citizens. I feel it deeply.

We went back to the University for a Q & A session on free speech issues. Again, we talked about Tinker v. Des Moines. But also about the principles of the First Amendment generally. They were all teachers themselves.  One graduate student made my day when she asked me to say more about I told them about it being an encyclopedia of current events, that my first page was about Katie Sierra, a high school student in West Virginia who had been kicked out of school for wearing a protest shirt after the first bombing of Afghanistan, and how it had grown like Topsy to over 13,000 pages now. I asked how many in the class had had an opportunity to see the site, and they nearly all had. So that put a smile on my face.