Two things which continue to confound me about Knoxville:
1) Why is there a Gerald R. Ford Street? I have raised this question in previous blog entries, and yet the question remains. A student tells me that Ford once scored a hole in one at a golf tournament in Memphis, but other than that, the student suggests the only reason Ford was given a street name was because of his Republican status.
Which segues nicely into an unexpected concern that developed as I was walking toward my 8am class on Wednesday morning. It was the day after an historic election in America. We have elected an African American to the presidency. A black man in America has risen to the highest position on Planet Earth. It's astounding. I still can't believe it. I'm still struck by the shifting weight of it all - which might explain my sudden annoyance with some of my young relatives who refuse to be great - but that's another story altogether.
Back to that walk toward my classroom: It struck me that bursting into the classroom with tremendous enthusiasm over the newly elected president would be alienating to many of my students, who are, after all, Tennesseeans, who did, after all, vote for someone else, and who were, after all, probably having a pretty bad day.
And so I had to figure out how to bring it up in such a way that recognized the momentous occasion, honored it, and yet did not disenfranchise many members of my class. They are a smart group of people. I respect them and I wanted to show them that. Additionally, I think McCain was a terrific candidate. What an amazing election this was to have had two such capable, intelligent potential leaders. It was this sort of discussion I encouraged. I hope I handled it gracefully. It's a cautious time for everyone, or at least, it should be. It's time for unification. I want to be a part of that.
2) The second confounding element of Knoxville - football. Always football. Phil Fulmer, former head coach of Tennessee, was fired last week for a continuing failing record. There is a central artery running through campus called Philip Fulmer Way, and artery here is a good metaphor. Like many southern schools, football at Tennessee is a lifeforce, the blood that pumps through this whole place. It was interesting to see one man of integrity stand up while another man (of considerably less integrity if the rumors are true) was forced to step down. What an upset for UT students on so many levels. So many changes all at once, which is why I love my job. I get to be a small part of watching them work through that, and hopefully, give them the opportunity to articulate their ideas, concerns, conflicts in writing.