Evaluating the American Dream
Patrick Kuster
By Patrick Kuster
High School Social Studies Teacher
December 13, 2018
“When our fellow Americans are denied the American dream, our own dreams are diminished.” -- Barack Obama
The American Dream is an elusive concept that has inspired people around the world for centuries. At the same time, we understand today that more than once in American history did this quest -- to seek out a better life for one’s self and family -- result in denying the same dream to other Americans. The Native American genocide is one of the most prevalent examples of this historical process.
To dive deeper into the complexities of this topic, Ms. Hume from the English department and I together designed a new senior-level integrated Social Studies/English course, Revisionist History and the Power of Narrative, in which the students and teachers together explore myths and manipulations of the past. “Why are the stories of those not in power excluded from the mainstream narrative?” is one of the essential questions we are investigating. The broad approach of this course allows us to research the history of 19th century westward expansion. At the same time, we are reading and discussing “There There.” a newly published novel by Cheyenne author Tommy Orange. It has been called a “wondrous and shattering portrait of an America few of us have ever seen.”
As an immigrant to the United States, I am fascinated by the different ways our students react to the exploration of the American dream. In our global classroom, many students with an international background are thinking about this differently than other students. As several historians have pointed out, the idea of the American dream is closely related to the ideas of American exceptionalism and conquering real and mythical frontiers. Our students are stepping up to the opportunity to explore narratives of the past and present that are hidden from the mainstream. Probably the most exciting aspect of this class is how much I have learned from our students which I often incorporate back into the curriculum. This course has helped me realize how my own misconceptions shape my thinking, and the need to question ideas over and over again. It’s exciting to see how our seniors have developed into such amazing critical thinkers!
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