I love living in Carbondale, and like many college towns throughout our great nation the public schools are fabulous. The teachers are wonderful, the administration is sane, and the school system supports the arts and music. My son Jackson plays trumpet in the 4th grade band, and today was their big year end concert. In attendance were not only the director of the school of music, and the chairs of the SIU departments of women’s studies, foreign languages, chemistry, sociology, and faculty from many other departments who had children singing and playing instruments, but also gaggles of fully veiled Saudi women and their husbands, graduate students from all over the world, heavily tattooed local Anglo s, average white Midwesterners who work as staff at the college or around town, numerous Latin American families, and a large contingent of quite diverse African Americans—ranging from school teachers, coaches, and professionals to people barely scraping by on the margins and working in fast food joints, if they can. The Carbondale city schools are “majority minority”, and everyone made an effort to watch our kids sing and play.
Carbondale has a fairly uncommon solution to segregration issues—rather than use busing to desegregate the schools, everyone simply goes to the same school and they reduced the number of grades in the schools. It is fucking brilliant! Kindergarten and first are at one school, second and third at another, fourth and fifth at yet another….so ALL of the kids are in the same school, and there aren’t huge age differentials so all of the kids can be friends. Jackson is the nicest boy in the world, so he’s friends with everyone, no matter who they are. But, his special friend is really Madeleine, whose parents are regular working class Carbondale people and we sat with them at the concert. Next to us were Miguel’s two mommies , one of whom is the Spanish immersion teacher at the K-1 school (I coached Miguel in soccer, and he’s been friends with Jackson since they were toddlers at the SIU Child Development Labs daycare. In front of us were Ajawhn’s parents, one of Jackson’s other close friends. But the room was filled with rich and poor, black, white, and brown. And we listened to a patriotic themed musical program. No less than five Middle Eastern kids were in the 5th grade band/orchestra playing “My Country Tis” and “God Bless America”, while their gleeful parents captured the action on their video cameras and ipads.
Normally, a program like this would have made me want to vomit. It was all Americana, and patriotic songs. I mean, Jesus fuck! They did “God Bless America”?! But, somehow, in this crowd, it seemed more poignant. God bless America. I don’t believe in gods, but I do believe in America. I really do. In every corny way possible. I’ve mostly become cynical and blighted and focused on how we’ve completely lost track. But, god damn it, I believe in America. And what I saw today is what America is and should be. A bunch of fucking kids singing about hope and equality and democracy. One group of classes even put the Declaration of Independence and the Preamble of the Constitution to song. I’ll defer to Professor Benyas on the musical merits, but it was inspiring to watch this group of kids from diverse backgrounds praise the ideals that have kept our nation together and brought slow progress towards realizing those ideals. And, I thought mostly about how important this was for those children and their parents from other nations, particularly the students from Islamic backgrounds. It was a celebration of us, and you are us. I hope they all fucking stay and become Americans, every god damned one of them.
This machine kills fascists….