I’ve done a lot of driving around my Hoosier state the last few days. I’ve covered much of Indiana from north to south. It’s my favorite time of year around these parts. The air is dry and the breeze is crisp. The woodlots are beginning to burst forth with colorful splashes of their showy best. The farmers are all out harvesting the vast oceans of corn and beans. Today, as I drove past the the miles of golden brown fields with beans still standing, occasionally I saw a sight that seemed strangely out of place–a lone stalk of volunteer corn looming high above acre upon acre of soy beans. I stopped and took a photo of one of these lonely sentinels, which seemed to be trying to teach me something. It seemed to say, no matter where the circumstances of life drop you, stand tall and be yourself. You may sometimes find yourself feeling misplaced in your life—you may sometimes feel like a lone cornstalk in a field of beans—but trying to become like a bean plant will only lead to endless frustration.
Be corn—be you.
That message is implied by our national creed but, more and more, it seems we no longer value it. We are built to be a diverse nation, a melting pot of all races, creeds, religions–every imaginable walk of life–welcomed here by a lady holding high a torch in the harbor our largest city. Yet, our nation seems to be fighting against diversity at every turn. Assimilation to the dominant culture is preached as the true key to the American Dream. Along the way, we are demanding that millions of corn stalks become bean plants.
This is true in the field of education. Standardized testing attempts to force almost all of our nation’s students to clear the same bar, regardless of their starting points or their unique ability and interest levels. Our high stakes school accountability system holds schools accountable for preparing all students for a college track–even those students who have no interest in what traditional colleges have to offer them. There are a lot of students who are wasting time in such settings. They have interests and skills that would be better served in a trade school where they could focus their educations on the things they are actually interested in doing. Yet we force these cornstalks to try to become bean plants–and when they fall short of the goal on standardized tests, we hold their schools and their teachers accountable. Meanwhile, the nation is experiencing a shortage of skilled tradespeople.
For too long, many of the most conservative of Americans have managed to hijack the narrative of what American society is. All the while, what America actually looks like has strayed farther and farther from that tired, whitewashed conservative version of our nation. Conservatives spend much of their time trying to hold on to an America that never truly was–their “good ol’ days” never really were.
There were always many cornstalks in their idealized bean field.
That scares them.