Monday, February 20, 2017

RACISM WILL NOT SOLVE ITSELF

Lessons from a water crisis, an eight-year-old boy and a bunch of high school students


Tackling Racism in My Classroom and My Home



Sitting at the kitchen table this morning with my laptop open, my eight-year-old son Kavaun looked up from his plate of pancakes and asked, “What are you doing?”


This drawing by high school student Cam Hartley depicts poisoned 
water from a hand labeled, "Land of the Free."
Normally, we don’t allow screen time during meals, but today I was camped out in the kitchen before the kids rolled out of bed.

I closed my laptop and glanced over at his syrup-covered face and told him I was learning more about the water crisis in Flint. I was finishing my first read of the recently published report, The Flint Water Crisis: Systematic Racism Through the Lens of Flint by the Michigan Civil Rights Commission (Click to see the report).


After about ten seconds of silence, Kavaun responded with a quizzical expression and asked,


“Why?”

“They still don’t have water?”

My son has some understanding of the crisis because we attend church in Flint and signs remind us every Sunday not to drink the water. There was also that time about a year ago when we were stuck in traffic on MLK as people scrambled to get water from Flint Fire Station # 3. It was a snowy day and cars were stopping in the middle of the street to load their trunks with bottled water. Kavaun was puzzled by the spectacle of people lugging water up and down the street in the freezing temperatures.

Flint, Michigan. By Nick Gregory            
By the time we turned around in a vacant lot that had been turned into a makeshift loading zone for vehicles, my son had a glimpse into the suffering of others that he had gone his short life never knowing existed. The suffering was not confined to only African Americans or only white people. Poor people and middle class people of every shade lined up for water. Kavaun had a lot of questions and my incomplete answers did not satisfy his curiosity. How do you explain to a child that we let this happen and there's no confidence it will be corrected anytime soon?  

I felt like we were gawking at an accident scene as we tried to get out of there. Instead of a dead body or mangled car, we were looking in on a different kind of anguish - slow and methodical, like when an ill grandparent is placed in a nursing home waiting to die. The humiliation was indescribable. The pain raw. The agony that was put on display for the world to witness through news reports was even more uncomfortable up close.


Flint distribution site by Nick Gregory 
Our experience brought the angry and tired faces from our living room TV into closer view through our car windows. As huge snowflakes fell to the ground, children followed in tow as adults loaded their sleds and their wagons with cases of bottled water. There were no snow ball fights or children laughing.

Trying to describe the situation to my son left me angrier about a system that allows this to happen. Flint is about 60% Black and more than 40% of its residents live in poverty according tot he US Census Bureau. It would be far too simple to claim the Flint Water Crisis is all about race or all about poverty, but those statistics remain a big part of the story. I told Kavaun that this should never happen to anyone, anywhere. He agreed and we drove fifteen miles home trying to make sense of what we had just witnessed.


I was relieved he interrupted me this morning because I was struggling to map out this blog entry. Trying to connect classroom conversations about privilege, the Michigan Civil Rights Commission Flint report and our recent high school production of To Kill a Mockingbird was difficult. Trying to come up with creative ways to bring the lessons identified in the report into my classroom is challenging enough and blogging about the topic of racism is messy.

Teachers Should Influence the Conversation about Racism


How can anyone dismiss the role of poverty and race in a long history of environmental injustice in the United States? The Michigan Civil Rights Commission report is full of historical references that help us understand how systemic racism works. Fact-based sourcing we rarely find in textbooks and analysis that news reports do not deliver make the report a valuable tool for teaching. Among the report’s conclusions, there’s this:

“It is not sufficient to view the pumping of contaminated water into the homes of Flint families as an engineering failure.”

That statement alone is a great start to a classroom discussion that will encourage questions about several topics we see in the news on a regular basis. Prior knowledge about lessons from history and fresh ideas about how to solve these problems will give students a voice on relevant issues.


A water bottle floats down the Flint River. This was one of the images from 
my photo essay project about Flint titled, "Why Can't Us" that is linked here. 
The 130-page report is full of facts about Flint and Genesee County. It is a must-read for educators in Michigan and educators all over who care about social justice, the environment and lessons from American history.

This report has pushed me to learn about more social studies and humanities topics in Detroit (See my photo-essay about Detroit and racism titled, Split by clicking here). We could even look to the Dakota Access Pipeline controversy and the lessons playing out there to apply modern day events to the study of prejudice and racism.

Bigotry is as much a part of the American story as the Declaration of Independence and World War II. We need to go there.
Most of my students have never had to live through acts of hatred like the one from the Flint Water Crisis Report described below. This will be one of the examples I will use in my classroom so we can explore racism in a more meaningful way.


“Perhaps the clearest message of how Flint viewed black people’s 'position' was the one sent by the Bernston Field House public swimming pool. Six days per week the pool was for the use of whites only, while black children were relegated to sprinklers the city would set up across the street.

Blacks were allowed to use the pool only on Wednesdays. Every Wednesday night the pool was completely drained and everything was cleaned, so the facility would again be ready for those who were allowed entry on Thursday morning. The 'necessity' to empty and clean a swimming pool based on the skin color of the previous users was an outright symbol of racism.”

Going there to get there



Protestors at the Michigan State Capitol in Lansing, Mich. 
By Nick Gregory
Kavaun’s simple questions remind me not to complicate what is plainly obvious: It is never too early or too late to go there.

My son is curious about how an entire city was poisoned and he has provided several openings to talk about big topics like promoting the common good, poverty and human rights. Sure, he’s eight years old but his questions make more sense to me than the finger-pointing and excuses we've grown used to hearing through press conferences and criminal indictments of lower-level Flint city employees.

Following the discovery of lead contamination in Flint water, people have been forced to endure the blame game, disputes over federal money for relief and short-sighted solutions that ignore historical context. We are familiar with the story, but like most people who do not live in Flint, we can only imagine the challenges. I want my son to continue to imagine the challenges faced by others and put himself in their situation, at least for a few minutes.


This morning, Kavaun left the table and played nerf basketball for a while before coming back into the kitchen to ask me, “How can they trust anymore?”  


That is a damn good question. How can the residents of Flint trust anymore?

Fortunately, several students in my high school were asking the same question about trust, but there question was about more than Flint. With incredible precision, our talented students brought hundreds of people along with them on a journey to explore racisms grip on our nation.  

How can they trust?



I was profoundly moved by the Fenton High School performance of Harper Lee’s, To Kill a Mockingbird a couple of weeks ago. Our high school actors, under the direction of Lori Thompson, delivered a performance and talk-back session afterward that left audience members inspired.

Their mantra, “Sometimes you have to go there to get there” was a shared commitment for the cast and crew as they researched, interviewed class guests and visited Flint to try and understand the deep-rooted challenges of racism. They brought their audience along on their journey through a story set more than eighty years ago in the deep South. In a unique twist, they set the stage so that we could examine racism and prejudice in the modern world.


Waiting & the Flint River. The man on top is walking away, out of the frame, 
as the man sitting by the water waits. By Nick Gregory
Mockingbird was performed in a small theatre with 360-degree seating for about 200 people. The intimate setting allowed about a thousand people take in seven separate performances.

I imagine that many audience members contemplated the dual roles of trust and justice as Tom Robinson faced his accuser. Kavaun's question, "How can they trust anymore?" has a legacy stretching back centuries in the United States.

We practically joined the actors on stage, making the story one that belonged to everyone. Many questions about injustice and the racism that we’ve been witnessing in Flint and Detroit and Saginaw and Benton Harbor and Fenton and Ionia where I grew up  - well, you get it - it all played out on that stage. We all know that racism is not confined by geography or a specific time period and it inspires me that young people are willing to go there.

We need young people to help the adults on this one because going there can be more difficult as people get older. Talking about the reality of racism is the best way to start advancing progress. We have to find ways to constructively solve our problems by trying to understand others experiences.


Modern day struggles like the ones in Flint, Ferguson, Mo. , Detroit, Charleston, SC and Baltimore were included in the performance along with moving musical selections. Black Lives Matter, law enforcement, mass incarceration and modern political struggles revolving around Muslims and refugees were part of the conversation with Mockingbird. The nasty wounds of racism and prejudice were put on display for everyone in the theatre.


Without prompting, my son is analyzing many of the same questions in relation to the Flint Water Crisis. Questioning ow something like this could happen in Flint point out the inequity that exists in our world. These questions have gone unanswered in our nation since well before To Kill a Mockingbird was set in the 1930’s and we have largely failed to go there in public education.


Flint in crisis, by Nick Gregory
The questions Kavaun and my students are asking about trust need to be addressed in our classrooms. We cannot afford to have these questions looming over our children for the next eighty years because we lacked the courage to acknowledge the tough stuff.

My high school students remind me that they have the courage to address tough topics in hopes of making progress. I am inspired by their performance, our conversations in class and their expressions through art. When we get right down to it, we are addressing the importance of empathy, justice and opportunity. Those values should have a safe place in every classroom and school.


In the recent Flint Water Crisis Report, the conclusion was drawn that the people of Flint,

"... have been subjected to unprecedented harm and hardship, much of it caused by structural and systemic discrimination and racism that have corroded your city, your institutions, and your water pipes, for generations."

I accept that finding. I am encouraged because I think young people are more likely to fight for progress than dispute facts like I have grown used to seeing on cable news networks lately. Big ideas and a willingness to listen matters more than being right.


Many of us will spend a lifetime trying to move the needle on progress in meaningful ways. While some of us will occasionally succeed, it is quite another thing to influence a thousand people over the course of five days. Our high school students did just that and it gives me some optimism.


The power of great teaching lies in building relationships based on trust - the type of trust that encourages students to address their own flaws and embrace the vulnerability that comes with taking risks. Great teachers model risk-taking with skill and they embrace vulnerability in order to advance learning. Lori Thompson and the students she leads taught their audience about the value of self-examination.

In your own community, there are people who help us see the possibility in the world and I hope you will take a minute to reach out to them and join their efforts if you haven’t already done so. Fighting for progress is tiring. The people working hard need a hand and some encouragement.


Help racists get on the road to recovery



The Mockingbird performance and the honesty with which our students delivered it revealed the complicated layers that make confronting bigotry and racism challenging. More importantly, our student actors will continue to fight for good ideas and so will many of the people who shared this learning experience with them. Their lesson:
Never underestimate the power of ideas. Human beings have incredible capacity to grow.


We can never have too many reminders about the importance of “walking in another’s flip-flops” and opening our hearts to the experiences of others. Empathy is much greater than a set of actions and it can be modeled and learned.


We can all learn from the lesson’s our young people seem to be grasping quicker than many adults do.

The racism and hate others have learned is not their burden alone. The hate and baggage others carry is my burden too. It is also your burden. It is the burden our nation has been living with for centuries and acknowledging that truth is an important first step.

A wall built in Detroit to segregate black and white neighbors. This wall was
featured in my photo-essay titled, "Split" that is linked here. 
We have to ensure our children to not get programmed to fight the reality that racism exists. The hatred cannot be denied, nor can it be justified. Students and adults who believe a colorblind society exists today need to learn from others.

Empathy can be modeled. I have learned from people in my life that that there is such a thing as a “recovering racist” and that people can change. People are willing to change and ultimately, some people really do change.


We learn how to change - some slower than others - but we learn with experiences and we learn with practice. The student performance of Mockingbird was a testament to that practice. The work does not end with one act or an epiphany. Commitment to helping people through a struggle doesn’t really end,  it just changes as we grow. My students and my son have reminded me of that truth.


Ugly truths came to life in that theatre.  The collective effort of the cast, focused study and their exhausting rehearsals demonstrated respect for their audience and belief in something bigger than the “show” itself. A bunch of talented students helped people think and feel the tough stuff and their work is only beginning in this arena of creating positive change in our world. It is inspiring to me and makes me want to keep reaching for more.


We should be encouraged when young people are examining these topics now when they will have the energy to fight for change. I am grateful I work in a profession where I can experience this first-hand. Hopefully the feelings about diversity and honestly tackling our differences that I see from my students is reflective of a generational shift toward more open-mindedness. We, the adults, need help navigating these things as we have a long way yet to go.


Good ideas will always be worth fighting for, even when it appears that those good ideas are losing. We only lose when people give up. The cast and crew of To Kill a Mockingbird put on display a quote attributed to of Eleanor Roosevelt: “It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.”


It is important for us to keep our candles lit, especially when the nasty winds of hatred are swirling all around us. Be inspired by young people, activists and people from all walks of life who are providing the light we need so badly in our nation right now.


(More PHOTOS included below)
The Water Crisis Through the Eyes of a Child - Flint street art.
By Nick Gregory
Detroit message. By Nick Gregory
A message expressed in street art, Detroit.                                                             
By Nick Gregory 

Monday, November 28, 2016

Pain and Love

The epilogue to a difficult election


I used to claim that I am a resident of the nation’s high five (Michigan), but lately I feel like my state let the country down. Despite the disappointment, the painful election results have led me to fall in love with my wife and our nation all over again.  

Let me explain: We wept as the results came in on election night and retreated to our own ways of coping. I sulked and my wife Beata went on a shopping spree. She warned me Thursday morning that she had indulged in some “binge shopping” to deal with her frustration, which was not like her. A couple days later, I got home from my job as a high school social studies teacher to find boxes of books for our young children (8 and 4) about multiculturalism, world religions and kindness. One book was titled, “If I were President” with a young girl featured on the cover. This was the shopping binge?


I affectionately refer to this great group of people as my
"Persian Family." They demonstrate the best of our diverse 
nation. We need to commit to actively fighting against division 
so we can change a culture that  accepts hate as an 
inconsequential cost of American politics. 
Over the course of the next week, more books arrived and the conversations at our dinner table turned to messages of hope and helping others. A child alone on the playground? Invite him to play in your game. A clash of ideas in school? Listen and try to understand, without fighting to be right. If someone is struggling, offer to help.     

My wife decided in her despair that if the world needed to be made better, we should start with our own family and branch out. While I remained in a fog, Beata took action. With grace, she inspired me to step up in my classroom and to hang on to hope that with a renewed purpose, we could overcome the terrible setback of a Trump victory.  

These books and our conversations at home took a profound turn when our son asked us, “Why did people make a bully the president?” and “Can he (Trump) start now so the four years will get done faster?” When our son asked, “Will Trump’s wall keep us from meeting our cousins who live in Iran?” it hit me just how closely he had been paying attention to the hateful tone of Trump’s campaign.

You see, Beata is the daughter of Iranian immigrants. Her parents worked in the fast food industry in the 1970’s and 80’s as they climbed on to the first rung of opportunity in the United States. They alternated shifts so they could advance their education and raise their family.

To me, a white male from rural Michigan, my wife’s parents epitomize the American Dream I never had to think about while growing up. With hard work, incredible sacrifice and an unwavering commitment to each other they made a life that we are grateful for every day. They raised Beata and her sister to be strong, loving and open-minded. Beata has a successful career and my children are blessed with a wonderful mother. My wife's parents have both achieved advanced degrees and professional success. More importantly, they have done so while sharing the beauty of their culture with their family, helping others and embracing people of all backgrounds. My Persian parents are remarkably loving and kind so naturally it hit a little closer to home when Trump promoted the idea of a “watch list” for Americans from Muslim nations. When Trump spoke with brazen contempt of immigrants and fueled hateful rhetoric toward the various groups he views as a threat, the sting was felt in our home.
  
A couple of the books Beata ordered so we could grow love
in our family. I renewed my energy after Election Day by 
looking in the mirror and putting action to my aspirations. Now,
more than ever, is the time to remain mindful and intentional.

This election has reminded me that the fight for good starts in our homes and our communities. My wife Beata moved to Southeast Michigan in 2004, a far cry from Portland, Ore. where she grew up. At that time she was a journalist in Flint and we were just beginning our life together. Beata was living a dream afforded by the First Amendment that her father never had the luxury of enjoying in Iran. Her father, once jailed for political expression in his homeland, has always been Beata’s biggest cheerleader. He has taught me first-hand about a father’s devotion to family.  

I have been a high school social studies teacher for sixteen years and I use my platform to help students learn American values like equality, the common good and diversity. My mother embraces diversity and she has shown me what it means to help others. Strong women make me a better man. My mom is a resilient woman and there’s no doubt that I was attracted to my wife because of the lessons from my mom.

Celebrating Election Day as a
family. We went to dinner and
talked about voting afterward.
Lessons passed on can live for a long time. I remind my high school students that when hate and division are employed as a political strategy to promote “otherness” that it is not enough to simply understand that it is wrong. It is our civic duty to push back against hate. Speak out. Be heard. Hillary Clinton, Khizr Khan and Michelle Obama modeled how to stand up to hate.

That discomfort felt in the pit of your gut when you confront bigotry or sexism is a sign that plenty of challenging work needs to be done. Beata helps me resist the temptation to be dismissive or to let up on the vision of America we have for our children. Privilege may afford some people a lack of understanding and this election has brought that to light on a grand scale. We need to acknowledge truths and have those difficult conversations. No matter our political leanings, empathy is the key to making the world a better place. Well, empathy and a strong commitment to helping others.  

My own family from rural Michigan has strong ties to the Democrat party and community activism. My grandfather served as a Marine and was wounded on Iwo Jima in WWII. He is my hero and he taught us about compassion and love for community. My grandfather, a patriot, fought to advance American progress so that we might live in a nation capable of appreciating the patriotism of my my Persian family, and the millions of others like them who make the United States special.    

My lifeline of support growing up. That's me - the youngest child to the right 
in my mom's lap. My family lives their values and do not preach about them.  
They help others, work hard and motivate me to strive to be a better person.
At the moment, I can’t help but feel bad about reassuring my Persian family in Oregon that Michigan would deliver and Hillary would be our president. After all, Hillary stands for so many of the values and ideas ideas we embrace as part of our national fabric. I was swept up in my excitement that Michigan would join with millions of voters representing different races, ethnicities, religions and sexual orientations to shatter the glass ceiling and make her our president. I failed to realize that our brand of patriotism was not necessarily understood by others.

I was reminded by level-headed friends who voted for Trump that fear can be a strong force to overcome and love needs people willing to fight vigorously for the cause. Beata has compelled me to share the story of love, devotion and hard work that has been her family's experience in hopes others will embrace the diverse America we love so deeply.
In defeat, we have come together to celebrate the promise of uniting people. Our nation will benefit from some measure of optimism and kindness. Beata’s intentional acts to teach our children how to love inspires me to deliver on the promise of our country.

We are just getting started.




Sunday, November 6, 2016

Elevate your voice


A nasty election is a pitiful excuse to stop caring

A letter to high school students and first-time voters that everyone should read. 


To my high school students,

I am deeply concerned about the consequences this election may have on your view of American democracy, and I want to offer you a new perspective.

First of all, I will enthusiastically cast my ballot Tuesday along with millions of Americans. No matter the amount of effort involved, I always look forward to voting. Do not confuse election fatigue with the awesome responsibility to vote.

Your tired expression in class when we talk about this election makes sense to me. You may think I am obligated as your teacher to be a cheerleader for democracy. That’s not the case. I hope that you will want to vote. Our nation is held together by our commitment to progress. Voting is a sacred pact we make with past and future generations. My sincerity alone isn’t enough for my message to get through to all of you so please give this letter a read in its entirety. Consider your stake in all of this.

A Fixed Mindset is Dangerous


The negativity surrounding this election has left a lot of you feeling that our problems are so enormous that failure is inevitable. You are not alone. Pessimism drives this fixed mindset about American politics and ultimately it weakens our democracy.  

People with a fixed mindset believe that the chances of success within our political system are unlikely and predetermined. Some of you have told me that you think our presidential candidates represent a system that is broken beyond repair. To your credit, there is plenty of evidence to suggest you may be right. The influence of special interests and the breakdown of compromise in the national government makes it appear unlikely that things will improve.

Subscribing to a fixed mindset, even though it may be rational, ignores the legacy of who we are as Americans. A fixed mindset is a contradiction to our achievements and it is dangerous to our American way of life. Naturally, it is difficult to advance progress while simultaneously whining about the election process. The negativity surrounding this election may give you the false impression that American democracy is stagnant, incapable of improving. Nothing could be further from the truth.  

Throughout the nation, people are having civilized conversations about real concerns - healthcare, the cost of college, jobs and law enforcement relationships with citizens. Elections are fiery, but it is in the day to day where you find the real pulse of democracy in the United States. Like you, I am concerned about the intolerance displayed in this election and I am hopeful we can find a better normal. Sell-outs and frauds mope around and incessantly complain without taking action. Traditionally, people who care take action in positive ways by joining volunteer groups, going door to door to share ideas or speaking at town halls coast to coast.

Public expression may not be your thing yet, but there is one thing we all get to do eventually - we get to vote.

We discuss current issues in class because you need to be ready to vote. Casting your vote for someone is a risk worth taking. And yes, as many of you have reminded me, sometimes casting your vote is also about protecting American values and voting against a candidate.  

The demographic you will soon join (18-29 year olds) had less than 20% voter turnout in the 2014 national elections. I fear we may lose even more young voters to a fixed mindset after this election cycle. The negativity some students now associate with the presidency - the most esteemed office in the nation - concerns me. The new president-elect will have an awesome challenge to lead our nation and help restore faith in our political process. In order to maintain confidence in the political institutions that have served the United States for more than two centuries more people need to vote. In order to effectively change how we do politics in this nation, people need to take action. Be heard.  

When you weigh the accomplishments of American democracy against your Twitter feed here and now, it makes sense that you have concerns. I share many of your concerns.

You tell me that since you can’t vote yet there’s no sense in getting involved in the process of analyzing the candidate positions or supporting ideas. You're skeptical about a process that you view as mean-spirited. You report that you are frustrated that it is difficult to understand issues when the media fails to distinguish between fact and fiction.

I get it. The massive amount of information at your disposal is more of a blessing than a curse. You have to work harder to navigate through all the bias, but this is the perfect time for you to explore different political philosophies, ask questions and develop opinions about the country you want. Take advantage of the lessons this campaign is providing and give yourself permission to change your mind as you go. The ability to change your mind in the face of new information is a sign of intellect and strength.

This is an ideal time for you to share your ideas and gain inspiration by learning from great thinkers. The greats come from all walks of life (academic, philosophy, religion, art, music, acting, poetry, etc.) and their ideas stretch the vast political spectrum. Pay close attention because great thinkers may be closer to you than you realize. Learn from people who do not share your opinions and background. Find credible ways to sort through the issues because democracies are not designed to simply favor the noisiest people.

Your voice can influence the political process in several ways, and your vote will be the most significant. Our democracy depends on votes.  

Passionate Debate Strengthens the United States of America


Passionate debate about the role government should play in people’s lives helps us forge our national identity. Elections help us chart our path with some direction. This election cycle has been unique in many regards, but the passionate fight for ideas is not new. Disputes about ideas and strong-willed opposition in the public arena is healthy and that lesson should not be lost in light of this election season. Granted, you may not be inspired by the current candidates, but leave open the possibility that hope exists.

Above the Lincoln Memorial, it reads:
IN THIS TEMPLE 
AS IN THE HEARTS OF THE PEOPLE 
FOR WHOM HE SAVED THE UNION 
THE MEMORY OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN 
IS ENSHRINED FOREVER. 

President Abraham Lincoln (R) only secured about 40% of the nation’s vote in 1860 and he is revered by Democrats and Republicans. President Franklin D. Roosevelt (D), regarded by many historians as one of the best presidents in our nation’s history, still missed out on 40% of the country’s vote in 1932. History validates great leaders and that possibility will exist for our next president too.  
Difficult circumstances often reveal the strengths of our political process. Advancing our imperfect nation in the wake of the War of 1812, the Civil War and slavery coincided with intense debate. Recovering from the Great Depression, two World Wars and the more recent 2008 financial crisis involved suffering from Americans, not just members of one political party or a specific ideology. We persevere and the clash of ideas fuels American progress.

It is also true that our government has promoted the disenfranchisement of people (African Americans and Native Americans for instance) and at times, we continue to fall short on the promises of justice, equality and promoting the common good. The United States government has enacted harmful policies (racial segregation and internment camps for Japanese Americans for instance) and engaged in dishonest behaviors.

Our history should serve as a painful reminder that we need all voices at the table so we can do better. This includes you. Your voice is needed so we can better fulfill the promise of the United States. Our national failures and misdeeds should serve as motivation for you to amplify your voice, not sit out.

Democracy is Messy & Elections have Consequences


The American government has improved the lives of Americans. Criticism when government fails should be met with ideas for improvement. Election results express the direction voters want for our nation and the process can be invigorating, tiring and messy all at the same time. Facts and evidence should outweigh political party loyalty and that alone can get confusing.
Unlearning a fixed mindset about American politics requires a fresh perspective. There’s no one better equipped to bring new ideas and new expectations to the political process than young people. People who choose to remain ignorant are a cancer to a healthy democracy.

Like you, I am also frustrated by politics lately. I just don’t want your dissatisfaction to serve as an excuse to give up. I agree that special interests have too great a role in our political system. I also value honesty and civility among candidates and I hear you -  the Electoral College and two-party system both have glaring weaknesses. The issues you raise in class make sense, but they are not reasons to throw in the towel.
The Capitol, Washington DC 

Misguided frustration leads some people to sit out. The notion that refusing to vote is a useful form of protest is purely foolish.

Popular American essayist David Foster Wallace summed it up well when he wrote, ...stay home if you want, but don't bulls#!it yourself that you're not voting."

He added, "In reality, there is no such thing as not voting: you either vote by voting, or you vote by staying home and tacitly doubling the value of some diehard’s vote.” (Wallace, Up, Simba! Rolling Stone, 2000)

Right now you have the luxury of rationalizing your lack of interest in this election because you are young. The time for justifying a choice to remain clueless is running out. Pretty soon you will not be answering to your government teacher. Instead, it might be a classmate serving in the military or your own children who will be living with the decisions you didn't make. Whatever your level of interest today, keep in mind that apathy has never advanced American progress.

Never.

Generations of Americans struggled for the right to vote and their persistence in the face of incredible odds is the catalyst for my enthusiasm. By placing my trust in an election system that is free of violence and gives everyone an equal voice, I am elevating my voice with my vote.  

I am calling on you to stamp out pessimism, get informed and amplify your voice.

We get the opportunity to express our love for this country by voting in free democratic elections and soon you will have the privilege to vote. With all my heart, I want you to be prepared and most of all, I want you to vote.

Sincerely,
Mr. Gregory

* A pdf version of this letter (2 pages total) can be e-mailed to you upon request. Use the comment section or my email address to make your request.