Politics & Social Issues Symposia for Young Adults

I am very pleased to report that my proposal to establish a Politics & Social Issues Symposia for young adults with the sponsorship of the London Library and the London Youth Advisory Council has taken a huge step forward.

I am in the process of setting up a Socratic discussion group that will meet bi-weekly to read and discuss contemporary fiction and literary non-fiction dealing with issues of socio-economic, ecological, and political importance as well as ethnic, religious, racial and gender identity. The aim of the group is to give young adults a voice on the leading issues of our time and to provide a feedback mechanism by which they will report their findings to the City. The group will be pluralistic, non-partisan and open to young adults (ages 15-25) from all backgrounds.

I will keep everyone posted. It looks like we will be convening this fall at London Central Library downtown.

Jeremy Nathan Marks

Utopia/Dystopia and listening to teenagers

I am in the midst of teaching what I am calling a mini-seminar series on utopian ideas. The course is in five parts with each session devoted to a specific book. The course is broken down like this:

Week 1: The Communist Manfesto (Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels)
Week 2: The God That Failed (Richard Crossman, ed.)
Week 3: Utopia (Sir Thomas more)
Week 4: Winnipeg’s General Strike (Michael Dupuis)
Week 5: To Kill A Mockingbird (Harper Lee)

Already the course has become for me a fascinating discussion/rumination on the question: What is a utopian society?

What I find most interesting about this course is that I am witnessing a group of teenagers who have grown up in a post-Cold War world where the threat (or spectre) of communism no longer carries any of the weight that it carried during my own early childhood. Their opinions are free of the Cold War, East vs. West polarities I was reared on growing up in the suburbs of Washington D.C.

What I also find fascinating is that this is a generation that has grown up with a profusion of dystopian books, graphic novels and films. Over the past three years I have been introduced to vast literatures detailing for young adults what a dystopian future might look like. These books range from The Hunger Games to the Divergent series to Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series and World War Z. And of course Margaret Atwood has also made her own contribution (The Year of the Flood). All of my students are familiar with at least one dystopian novel or film and consider dystopia to be a very real possibility for their futures. I honestly do not remember a similar interest in dystopias when I was a teenager, then again I came of age during that oddly buoyant period known as the 1990s before the towers fell, before the “Great Recession” and before the broadening discussion/controversy of Global Climate Change.

I believe that it is appropriate for young adults to read, consider and discuss literature whose primary concern is asking the question: what does a fair, just and equitable society look like? It is frankly refreshing to hear them discuss these matters intelligently, politely and passionately without the cant and hackneyed phrasing so common in the popular media. But more importantly, I think that introducing young adults to literature of this calibre and indicating to them that they are ready for it is immensely important because it not only encourages them to voice their concerns, observations and opinions but it also teaches them that serious questions deserve serious consideration and that they, with their enthusiasm and verve, can make a contribution and have the intelligence and aptitude to do so.

I would like to see more air time and screen time in the media devoted to roundtable discussions and Socratic seminars where young adults are the participants. I find their observations and interactions not only enlightening but in fact more enlightening than that of pundits and wags because they have not reached a point where they feel they have found the grail for all of our problems or have a vested concern in one ideology or programmatic solution.

Jeremy Nathan Marks

 

 

A poem I think is appropriate for my teaching page

I wrote this poem for my wife and daughter but I think the sentiment applies here:

Sleep through the night
for Michelle (and Nora)

The joy of May mornings
is in the mountain’s shadow
making dawn come up gentle

Is in its infant green
and then when the washing’s done
crickets laying down some late light

At dusk,
when the mothers come out
their babes asleep indoors
in bassinets and cradles

With an evening drink in hand
and an open porch
they wait on husbands and partners
kicking off their boots

Smell the dusk?
It’s a furrow,
it’s an old brown shoe

It’s in the bouquet
of every parent’s wish for their child:

That they fly strait
that they fly right
and that they sleep through the night.

Jeremy Nathan Marks

Another great discussion

I must say that I am again delighted with the session I had with the philosophy discussion group. Yesterday we met a second time and discussed The God That Failed, a collection of testimonials by six writers who turned against communism.

I remain deeply impressed by the contributions of the group. Not only did they read the book with enthusiasm but they also connected the analysis of writers like Richard Wright, Ignazio Silone and André Gide to contemporary socio-economic and political problems. To witness a group of young people sit and debate ideas with intellectual commitment, personal humility and unfailing politeness is always a great joy for me and offers me hope for our social future.

At the risk of being repetitive, I just cannot help but express my delight at having the opportunity to work with such a group of engaged and committed thinkers who approach ideas with purpose and verve. Not only are the sessions delightful to participate in, but they are a personal gift to me as I am reminded why teaching is my calling. I am grateful to my students (and their parents) for reminding me of that.

Jeremy Nathan Marks