Back when typewriters dotted the earth, I read Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, but I can’t remember, when did they realize the end was near? Probably between the bottom of the eighth and the top of the ninth. Can’t remember whether they played baseball either.
I’m not sure what inning we’re in, but if Dayton, Ohio is our frame of reference, a few pitchers and catchers are stirring in the bullpen.
Recently, in the deep recesses of my pea brain, I’ve been outlining a course that explores our nation’s decline. This intellectual exercise was prompted by an incredibly tight and excellent 55 minute long ProPublica/Frontline documentary that I highly recommend on Dayton, Ohio titled, “Left Behind America”.
Other likely resources include:
- Janesville, An American Story by Amy Goldstein.
- And “Upstate Girls: Unraveling Collar City”, a longitudinal photo study of a group of girls from a few extended families in Troy, N.Y. The New York Times just lavished praise on it here.
- And yesterday’s hopeful New York Times piece on Dayton titled “This City’s Overdose Deaths Have Plunged. Can Others Learn From It?”
One question we will consider is how does our country improve the life prospects of young impoverished boys and girls in Dayton, Ohio; Janesville, Wisconsin; and Troy, New York, especially when addiction and mental illness are so common in their families?
We’ll also ask whether the challenges are best understood through the lens of psychology and concepts such as “internal locus of control” or sociology with its emphasis on systemic impediments to upward mobility like institutional racism, the loss of manufacturing jobs and the associated dismantling of labor unions, and educational inequities. Related to that, we’ll debate what roles local, state, and/or our federal government should play in providing Dayton’s youngest residents more equal opportunities in life.
We’ll also read two books that broaden our frame of reference to include rural America:
- Hillbilly Elegy (and contrasting critiques of it) and
- Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth (which I still need to read)
And given the President’s incessant demonizing of immigrants, I need your help finding materials, beyond the segment in Left Behind, that examine the important role immigrants are playing in reviving places like Dayton. Or any other materials that offer hope if not practical solutions.
Who is in? What other literary, artistic, non-fiction, and/or multimedia resources should we consider and what other ideas do you have for strengthening our course?