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All Together Now

August 23, 2016

As a young faculty member I was desperate, idealistic, and naïve. A mailer from Hillary reminds me of an example.

In 1970 we had recently moved to a small city in Indiana where the rapidly expanding university was replacing a founding patriarchal industry with a university-centered economy, including a lot of new faculty members from all over the country.

I had obtained a higher income by leaving my teaching position a few blocks from the White House; but with a growing family I still needed to supplement my salary. My motives were good, but not pure.

Together with colleagues I got Endowment for the Humanities funding for a year-long project to boost coordination of the university, local nonprofits (including churches), and local businesses. We attempted to design a variety of programs to publicize and, we hoped, explore and implement some solutions to the lack of housing, employment, and education for black and Hispanic (mostly migrant worker) citizens. In the process, we would be causing a lot of people to get to know each other across social divides. I called it, “We’re All in This Together.” Hmm.

Lots o’ luck. You can already see where this story is going, so I’ll skip to the end. Faculty members and other local professionals tried hard, some white business people showed up, we did a little bit of good—maybe mostly by showing interest and establishing some friendships. The money ran out, and mostly things stopped.

Okay, we faculty members were amateurs; we contributed some expertise, especially in the social sciences, and in humanities perspectives (e.g. history, critical reasoning, language, imagination, and clear humanistic values—and I have a story about that, for another page); but mostly we contributed enthusiasm, care, idealism, and naïveté.

What were we so naïve about? You guessed it. We thought that when administrators and business people said that they thought the idea was wonderful and they wanted to help, they weren’t kidding, so to speak. We had gone through the ‘60s together.

Twenty years later, after direct experiences of residential red-lining, biased policing, administrative town-gown politics, and state legislative distribution of opportunity, I realized that the last thing that many of my fellow citizens, including some neighbors, wanted in their community was for everyone to be in this together. Simply, there had never been any possibility of adequate cooperation. Lots of smiles, though.

So, am I skeptical of triangulation to improve the lives of millions of Americans?

Forget the ‘60s (if you must). Can, and will, the highly privileged bring off what the rest of us can’t—under the right leadership?

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  1. What Is “the Humanities”? | tomkoontz

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