Informed voters make democracy work. On April 4th I received an email message from Claire Iwai, a junior English teacher at Blue Valley Northwest High School in Overland Park, Kansas. She wrote: “One of my students has been studying your work this year, analyzing it for rhetorical strategies and figuring out how your style complements your purpose. For the culminating part of the project, he must contact you via post and/or email.”
That’s like a watching a trailer for a movie you just can’t wait to see! I was hooked. In any communication, it is what is received that is more important than what one writes or says. Does ones message get through to a new generation? Can one of today’s teenagers glean the purpose of my columns? I must confess that as a teenager, I wasn’t reading op-ed columns. I skipped over that part; I wanted the sports section when dad was done.
Neil Postman, in his book Amusing Ourselves to Death, wrote, “Americans have a constant need to be entertained, a short attention span, and an inability to look at anything in depth.” For many, they would feel that Mr. Postman was referring to teenagers. After all, too many engaging and curious children come into school as an eager question mark, and by the time they get out of high school they have settled for being a bored period. But not in Ms. Iwai’s class.
Ms. Iwai’s challenging assignment opened Diego to the passion of political dialogue and the freedom of speech that is a vital cornerstone for our republic. It has also launched a continuing dialogue with Diego, a junior in Ms. Iwai’s class.
Now, before you launch into fears of a conservative conspiracy in our schools, Ms. Iwai did not assign a columnist to follow. Each student made their own choice. Some picked sports columnists, others followed liberal columnists.
But Diego’s letter and comments were particularly special to me. First, that a school would even allow students to follow and analyze political columns as a course requirement is impressive. Every generation must awaken to the importance of political principles and the freedoms we must treasure and preserve.
Reading Diego’s comments confirmed that he had captured the purpose for one of my columns on President Reagan: “It does more than bring back an American hero, it inspires within me the American ideal, the idea of powerful actions for what is right, and the importance of leadership for the betterment of others.”