“ALL” aboard for learning (and teaching)

As a retired newspaper publisher and still current newspaper columnist, free to share my random thoughts with anyone who cares, I often sit down at my computer, think about what’s on my mind, and begin writing. I usually don’t know where it will end up or how long it will be, but I forge ahead anyway, only to find out it is too long when I am done. Then I go about the difficult task of taking out something I wrote. It’s a bit like trying to unsee something you already saw!

But not this week. I know exactly what I am going to share with you. It all unfolded on January 23, 2024 on a snowy Tuesday in Northeast Michigan, but it started a couple months before when I was asked by the Association of Lifelong Learners (ALL) in Alpena, Michigan if I wanted to do a presentation for their group, who “promotes and encourages lifelong educational and enrichment experiences for people in Northeast Michigan.”

I said yes. What about, they asked. Well, as usual, politics was weighing heavy on my mind, so I suggested we talk politics, fully aware of the potential pitfalls when talking about politics or religion. Florence Stibitz, the ALL representative, was skeptical. I left it at that, thinking she turned me down.

A couple weeks passed and Florence reached out and said she didn’t hear back from me. I said I didn’t think she wanted me to do politics. I was wrong. I told her what my plans were and we were “ALL’ on board for 1:30 pm on that Tuesday.

I had a tidy presentation prepared, asked a few poll questions, like are they satisfied with the direction our country is headed or not, and if they thought Congress was doing a good job, etc., just to see how this group stacked up with the national poll results. Turns out they are a great representation of opinions held by many Americans at this time.

My goal was to have them make a list of America’s problems, issues and challenges. Then, later we would address each issue with their solutions. Since they are ALL learners by choice, I felt I needed to teach them something. This is where my prepared presentation went off track. I don’t think I taught this group one thing. Instead they taught me!

This group, much like the poll results reveled, seemingly representing American’s very well, were the polar opposites of what wee see in the news. They were a diverse group with deep opinions about our country, an obvious love of our country, and even more obvious, the concern for our country, and they openly and willingly discussed it without all the partisan bickering that encompasses Washington.

Instead, we had a civil and constructive discussion about the current state of affairs in the United States of America. To say I was impressed is an understatement given the current political climate.

Here’s a short list of what we talked about, not shouted about, not protested about, but seriously discussed with each other. Immigration, partisanship, crime, biased media, uniformed voters, Supreme Court, the nation’s debt, healthcare, gun violence, education, climate change to name a few. My hour was up before we could solve all of our nation’s problems, leaving more questions than answers, but I walked away from these lifelong learners thinking they need to change their name to Lifelong Teachers because we all could learn a lot from them. I am specifically talking about Congress. I wish the entire Congress could have been there that day. I would have made them sit there in silence hoping they would learn more by using their ears than their mouth. At the end I would ask Congress for a show of hands by asking them this question. “Did you learn anything today?”

My guess would be that the representatives would all raise their hand and say yes, they did learn something. My fear is that they will forget it all on their flight back to the nation’s Capitol.

My bottom line; While Washington is consumed playing political gamesmanship, the people are unhappy with their inability to do exactly what we did, which is to talk to each other and find solutions, not red solutions, not blue solutions but good old red, white and blue solutions.

On the drive home from the presentation, I thought about how different, how much better our country would be if I could vote for every single ALL member in attendance that day. Thank you ALL members for not only teaching me how we should go about running our country, but also for giving me hope that the power of the people will overcome.

My question for today is, “Readers, are you ready to make some changes in the voting both this year, or are you going to vote for the same people who can’t work together?” Let me know at gregawtry@awtry.com


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