I’m a Partridge Highlander. I live in the Partridge Highlands subdivision, precinct 2-H of ward 2 in the city of Stow. So I guess I’m a Stowite. And since Stow is a city in county Summit in the state of Ohio, that makes me a Summitian (?!) and an Ohioan, though we sometimes call ourselves “Buckeyes.”
Our sworn enemies, here in Partridge Highlands, are the residents of the Quail Hollow allotment over in precinct 2-E. Life over there is… different. Their streets are paved with asphalt, not concrete. The sidewalks are twelve feet from the curb instead of ten. Their Christmas decorations are too gaudy. Their landscaping is too pretentious.
We don’t really have a lot in common. But compared to those crazy people in Hudson or Cuyahoga Falls or Kent, we’re practically brothers. We share common schools, city infrastructures, and services. We use the same post office and library. We shop in the same places.
The same is true if we widen the context. Those crazy people in Hudson and Cuyahoga Falls and Kent are not so crazy after all compared to the Wolverine-loving residents of Michigan, where you have to pay a deposit on soda cans, it’s legal for 12-year-olds to own handguns, and they don’t even have a state rock song.
My community is defined by the terms with which I describe it. Moving beyond geography, I can call myself an educational technologist. But as soon as I do that, I’ve excluded all the people who are interested and actively engaged in education who may not accept technology as the means to achieve academic goals. If I get specific and say I’m a blogger, or a Twitterer, or a Facebooker, I can connect with the people who use those tools, but at the same time, I’m choosing to not connect with those who don’t.
The nice thing is that we have the concept of plurality. I can be more than one thing at a time. So I can be a blogger and (theoretically) a webcaster at the same time. I can be a brewer and a musician. I can be a father and a son. I can be a Partridge Highlander and an Ohioan.
In 2007, my school district adopted a new mission statement as part of its strategic plan:
The mission of the Brecksville-Broadview Heights City School District is to inspire and prepare students to be lifelong learners, to be flexible in approaching opportunities for growth, and to be effective as well as ethical contributors to our global society.
As we work through the revision of the strategic plan this year, some have raised objections to that last phrase. We don’t want our students to be contributors to our global society. We want our children to be Americans first. Why should they contribute to the global society? Why should they be helping the Chinese and the Indians steal American jobs? Why should they be improving living conditions in Africa when so many Americans are living in poverty?
We have a responsibility to our communities. We protect them. We nurture them. We learn from them. We benefit from our participation in them. But when we narrowly define them, we end up with an unhealthy homogeneity. Quail Hollow is not any better or worse than Partridge Highlands, just like Summit County is not any better or worse than Portage. And the more we engage with people from those other communities, the more we can learn from one another and benefit from our common experience.
So, yes. We can be Americans. Our students can be “ethical contributors to our American society.” But that doesn’t mean they’re not global citizens, too. And they’re going to be much better off if we don’t restrict their frame of reference to the United States.
Photo Credit: Enric Archivell on Flickr.