James.qxp July August 2018 web - Page 4

P U B L I S H E R’ S M E S S A G E
A Political Science Lesson in the Heartland
JAMES IS AGAIN PLEASED to present our annual rankings of Georgia colleges and universities as a helpful
guide to parents and students. However, it’s wise to
remember that along with a good classroom and online
educational experience is another valuable component: Leaving the college campus bubble to see other
parts of our country.
I was reminded of this after reading an essay by
Selena Zito chronicling her travels with 10 Harvard students as part of that university’s Institute of Politics
Main Street Project. In Chicopee, Mass., they talked
with the police chief and his force, the mayor and his
staff, small-business owners, waitresses and firemen
about their struggles living in small-town America. Zito
wrote: “Chicopee is about 90 miles west of their prestigious university in Cambridge, but when it comes to
shared experience, it might as well have been 1,000
light years away.”
The Main Street Project educator asked: “Who do
you think most of the people you just got to know voted
for president?” None of the students said they knew nor
had it come up in conversation. “Nearly every one of
them voted for President Trump,” was the reply. (Zito
had polled them earlier.) “My students looked stunned,
at first. But then a recognition crossed their faces.”
Zito writes: “Nearly all of them agreed that they didn’t know what life was like outside the coastal cities and
states. Only one student, Henna Hundal, 20, had grown
up in a rural environment … while Sam Kessler, a computer-science major, was the only member of the class
who had ever fired a gun. The students ranged in age
from 19 to 21, with an equal number of girls and boys and
a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds. The majority
hailed from cities and suburbs in blue states along the
East and West coasts. One was from Wales. They admitted they had been fed a steady diet of stereotypes about
small towns and their folk: ‘backwards,’ ‘no longer useful,’ ‘un- or under-educated,’ ‘angry and filled with a
trace of bigotry’ were all phrases that came up.”
The class also traveled to industrial towns in New
Hampshire, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Most were a twoto-four-night stay. After talking with staff and patrons at
a rural restaurant, Hundal was touched by the connec-
tion she felt. “I had this impression before taking this
class that there was a lot of anger and resentment
toward people outside of their communities,” she told
Zito. “Well, I don’t have that impression anymore.”
The students visited a New Hampshire gun range
and saw something else they didn’t expect— 40
women of all ages, shapes and colors pointing pistols at
a target. Zito relates that a smiling instructor taught
the students about gun safety and added: “For women,
knowing how to operate a gun is ‘the most empowering thing we can do.’”
In Ohio they dined with Joe Cassese, a third-generation family restaurant owner. He explained how he
grew a business in Youngstown. “I could have gone
anywhere, and I did. But in the end I wanted to come
home to this.” At one point a student declared she was
ready to move to Youngstown. “You don’t feel like a
customer here,” she told Cassese. “You feel like family.”
In Pittsburgh the students attended mass at a
Roman Catholic Church— only two had ever been
inside one— and afterward talked to parishioners
about their faith.
“They had all passed my important test,” Zito
writes. “They had taken a walk down Main Street and
made a lot more friends than judgments. They had
learned that, in order to understand a country’s politics,
you first have to understand its people. That means
getting out of your bubble and spending time away
from people like you. If you don’t, student Chris Kuang
said, ‘you lose the ability to spark the evolution needed
to bridge the country’s divide.’”
Zito said the students also came up with a better
name for their Institute of Politics project. They called
it #IOPening— a hashtag blending their eye-opening
experiences with the acronym for their institute.
By the way, her essay should remind us there are
really “two Georgias”— the Atlanta area and the rest of
the state. Visiting our small cities and rural areas is also
an eye-opener. Lessons are to be learned.
J U LY / A U G U S T 2 0 1 8


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