Welcome to Kentucky’s Kitchen Table

Kentucky’s Kitchen Table is a project of Citizen and Self, a class in the Mahurin Honors College at Western Kentucky University. Students gather together friends, family, and neighbors to have conversations around the kitchen table about what matters to them and what it means to be part of a community. Here you can see some pictures from the shared dinners, and read about what people learn when they gather together for conversation about who we are and who we want to be.

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Abigail Mitchell’s Kentucky Kitchen Table

By Abigail

            I held my Kentucky Kitchen here in Bowling Green,Kentucky on December 1, 2018. I held it at my sister’s apartment, and it was abit of a more relaxed situation than we were originally planning. The weekend Iwas originally going to host my KKT I had to move out of Minton, which led tous having it later than what was originally intended. However, we still hadsome wonderful discussions, and I’m glad that we were able to find a time tohave this meal together.

            One of the things that made our evening lovely was the people there, who all helped to deepen the discussion in some way. To start off with, there was my sister Emma and I. We are from a small town in Indiana, and we come from a very conservative, religious family. Get ready to see a theme. Emma’s roommates who were there with us that evening were Olivia and Madison. Emma met them through church, so as you could guess, they too come from conservative families. Madison is from a small town in Kentucky, but Olivia is from Memphis, so she brought with her the experience of living in a more diverse community her whole life.

            The student who I hosted this Kentucky Kitchen Table with was Faith, who is my Citizen and Self class with me. She has lived in Indiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, and currently lives in New York, so she has had a broad experience of different communities and regional cultures within our country. The last person who attended our KKT was Blake. He also attends church with us, and is neighbors with Emma and her roommates. Before our KKT we had not talked to each other that much, so it was interesting to hear the opinions of a person who I did not know as well.

            When it came to the meal itself, it was not exactly traditional. Considering that we are all broke college students living in small apartments with little space to cook (or couchhopping with no space), I did not want to require everyone to cook. Instead, we had a very stereotypical college meal. Faith and I both brought a pizza, and Emma and her roommates brought drinks and chips. When we had all arrived, we sat down at Emma’s table, and Blake said a prayer to start off our meal.

            I had only ever had casual conversations with most of the people at the table, so it was a little intimidating to start off the meal with the question of “what does citizenship mean to you?” People were quiet for a few moments, but soon people began to speak up. Olivia shared that she believes part of citizenship is the rights that you have as a citizen, such as freedom of speech and a right to fair trial. Emma said that she thinks a lot about local citizenship, since she can see her actions making more of a difference on that smaller scale than she can on a national level. She feels that being a citizen of a community means that you have a responsibility to those around you to help where you can, and to play your part.

            Madison then related this to citizenship as a whole. She pointed out that as citizens of America, we have a responsibility to work, and to do our part to keep our country’s system going. We all agreed that every county and economy can be compared to cogs in a machine, and that if one area stops functioning correctly the whole thing starts to fail. As citizens, we need to work and pay taxes to keep the system of our society functioning the way it is intended to.

            Blake then brought up the topic of how religion relates to citizenship. We are all Christians, and we believe that our “citizenship is in heaven”. Does this belief impact our roles in our earthly citizenship? Discussing this idea took up a big chunk of our time, and we related it to many issues that related to citizenship in multiple ways. From our perspectives on taxes to our political stances, we all felt that our ideology surrounding even the term “citizenship” were highly influenced by our religion.

            As this conversation progressed, I became a little concerned that we may be getting a little off topic. But then I considered the fact that the purpose of this dinner was to let the conversation flow, and to hear people share whatever feelings on the topic of citizenship they may have. So, I chose to let the conversation continue to flow, and everyone continued to discuss how religion effects their view of social issues.

            One topic that came up was the difference between American citizenship, and more general citizenship of nations worldwide. We discussed how your identity is a part of being a citizen, even though it does not tell the whole story. This led to us deliberating on the citizenship of the Dreamers, as they identify so strongly as Americans but are not seen as such in the eyes of the law. In addition to this we also brought up racism, homelessness, equality in educational opportunity of minorities, and how all of these things effected people’s experiences with citizenship. We all had different stories and opinions to share in the discussion, and everyone openly shared these things with each other.

            As this portion of our discussion began to slow down, Faith and I felt that another good question to ask would be “what social issue is closest to your heart and why?” Olivia spoke up first, and said that the social issue closest to her heart was women breaking the glass ceiling. She said that she has seen gender inequality impact several of the women in her life, and believes that it is a social issues that’s solution is long overdue. Emma shared that she cares very much about modern slavery. She has researched a lot about the relation to the relevance of pornography in our culture to sex slaves, and how even though that some pornography is consensual so much of it is tied to sex slavery and people being forced into situations that they did not ask for. She does her best to be a spokesperson for this cause, and supports groups that fight against this modern slavery.

            Madison feels that one issue that has been close to her heart in recent times is abortion. She feels that unborn children should count as human lives, but she also recognized that making abortion illegal would lead to more dangerous, illegal abortions taking place. Faith said that the issue closest to her heart at the moment is racism. She recognizes that we all have some form of racism and prejudice in us, and that everyone needs to be more to be aware of what they are doing to hurt and help those around them.

I said that the issue I care most about currently is environmentalism. I feel that environmentalism is something that many people overlook because its results are not immediate, so people do not feel a real need to act. However, not caring about the environment could fundamentally change our planet and the lives of all people, so I believe that it is something that people need to make a priority in their lives.

            Blake brought up an interesting idea as his “social issue”. He said that the social issue closest to his heart is sin. He feels that the root cause of all of these problems we discussed is sin and corruption in the hearts of people, and that if people changed their relationships with God and lived more Christ-like lives then these problems would be solved. This is another example of how religion has shaped the lives of the people at my Kentucky Kitchen Table, and how it has  definitely shaped Blake’s perception of the issues that we are facing in our world today.

            As a whole, I feel like I learned a lot about the mindsets of the people I had at my Kentucky Kitchen Table. I have spent a lot of time around my sister’s roommates, but I had never thought about asking them about their opinions on these complex issues. It was a pleasant surprise to discover that they did have well-thought-out answers to the questions that Faith and I asked, and it reminded me that people think about social issues more than we see. It was also nice to get to know Blake better, since he was a person who I had spent a little bit of time with but had also never had deep discussion with.

            I felt that this was a really great experience to learn more about everything we discussed in class. I did not have much opportunity for true deliberation since everyone at my Kentucky Kitchen Table were mostly on the same page when it came to citizenship and social issues, but I think that the experience was still helpful to prepare for having more controversial discussion in the future. I am glad that I had the opportunity to “host” this event, and I hope that it leads to further discussion on these issues in the future.

Faith’s Kentucky Kitchen Table

By Faith

My Kentucky Kitchen Table was quite postponed but still meaningful. I had it with my fellow honors student Abigail, her sister Emma, Emma’s roommates; Olivia and Madison, and another friend, Blake. We had it in Bowling Green at Emma’s house around her table on December 1st.  Abigail as I said, is also a part of our Honors 251 class. Emma is an Honors student, so she had also participated in an Honors 251 class, but she did not do a Kentucky Kitchen Table. We all shared religious values in common, but we also did have diversity. Olivia is from the city, whereas Emma, Abigail, Madison, and Blake are from less urban areas, and I have moved around a lot. We all are studying different things from environmental science to Interior Design, to Biology and more. There were also different political leaning around the table.

Abigail is a freshman at Western, studying Environmental science. Emma is a junior studying biology. They are both from southern Indiana. Olivia and Madison are also both juniors. Olivia is studying interior design and Madison is studying Elementary Education. Madison is from Kentucky and Olivia is from Memphis. Blake is from Indiana and He is a student at Western but I’m not sure what year he is or what he is studying. I am a freshman, studying English professional writing and cultural anthropology. Like I mentioned I’ve moved around a lot but currently, my family lives in upstate New York.

After going around to share a little about them, we started the discussion with the required question: what does citizenship mean to you? The conversation was a bit slow at first. I think that starting with such a broad question as “what does citizenship mean to you?” was hard at first. Abigail and I had the benefit of having been in this class the whole semester, but I don’t think the average person contemplates citizenship very often. I think that some people at our table had a hard time knowing how to answer. We each described slightly different things. At first, we mainly focused on our relationship with the government; our freedoms, our rights, and our laws. Emma brought in the idea of a more personal contribution. One of the things brought up in the discussion was occupation. Emma said that by doing her job, she was contributing to the world and that was part of citizenship. The discussion continued talking about how by doing our job we are being a part of the machine that is society. This reminded me of “Professionalized Services,” but where it saw each person doing their own specialty and not handling much else as a negative, the people around our table generally saw it as positive.

Eventually, the discussion shifted to the difference between being a citizen of a nation and a citizen of a community. Many of us agreed that we found our community citizenship more important than our national citizenship. Although we appreciate the rights provided to us by our country, we found the impact we could have on our own communities to be more meaningful and important. The theme followed well with the “Why Bother” reading. We cared a lot about small actions that can make the spaces we live in that little bit better.

Because we all brought up our religious beliefs, I decided to ask how we thought our religious beliefs affected our citizenship. One thing that was brought up is the Bible’s commandment to submit to the government. We discussed what that means to us; not just following laws but also respecting our government even when we don’t agree with them.

We also decided that many of the beliefs we hold tend to make us better citizens due to the fact we are always looking for way to better ourselves and to help others because of our religious beliefs.

I also believe that our religious beliefs affect us because we see ourselves as citizens of something bigger (God’s kingdom) before we see ourselves of citizens of America. That belief permeates all that we do and the whole discussion we had.

Once conversation began to take off a little, we talked about a variety of topics. We talked about the French national anthem, and Olivia brought up gun control. The table even brought up the Pledge of Allegiance which some of us are not comfortable saying. As the conversation dwindled I decided to write one last question; what social issue is closest to your heart? 

Olivia said it was women breaking the glass ceiling. Madison brought up abortion. Emma said modern slavery and human trafficking. Blake mentioned just the general sin and immorality in our world. Abigail brought up concerns about the environment. I talked about racial inequality which started a whole conversation about the complexity of race in America. I really enjoy seeing the things that people, especially my peers are passionate about. Sometimes we think that people are so caught up in themselves that they do not care about what is going on in the world but from what I have seen in this class that is simple not the case.

I found it interesting how somethings that maybe would normally be seen to go hand in hand with citizenship, did not equal citizenship in the minds of some of us. In particular, the fact that some members of our table do not say the Pledge of Allegiance. The Pledge of Allegiance is so closely tied to our nationally indentity but our discussion brings the question, do you have to indentify perfectly with your nation to truly be a productive citizen?

I really enjoyed talking to my friends about some things we don’t always talk about. This assignment and this whole class have inspired me to try to cultivate complex conversations with those that are around me. I think we are often afraid of starting polarizing debates and so we miss out on productive and engaging interactions. We all have things that we are passionate about or concerned about and maybe if we spent more time considering them together we could encourage one another to be productive citizens. The food itself was nothing fancy but by coming together with a group of people I wouldn’t normally eat with and discuss these things with we were able to create a space that was truly unique, even if only for a little while.

The part of the discussion that really stuck with me was when we were talking about being citizens of our community and not just Citizens of our nation. I think that it goes along with the Illich reading to some extent. Illich brought up working where you know as an alternative to working somewhere we don’t understand and then accidentally doing harm. Changing the world can be a daunting task but we do have power to affect the people and places around us, and to me, that is what citizenship is truly all about.

Citizenship does not just mean being a member of a nation it means being a member of a community. It means making a community out of the space that you are in. It means looking out for the needs of those around you. It means that you do your part to make the world better. It means that you respect those above you, but you also advocate for change. Citizenship looks different for each of us. Just like each person around the table brought their own unique point of view to the conversation, we each approach citizen with our individualized spin because of the different experiences we have had. The people at our table described citizenship in their own ways but that does not mean that it is the way everyone views citizenship. It’s like when we talked about experience being epistemologically significant. By sharing our opinions we can learn more about citizenship but that does not dictate what citizenship means. When it comes down to it, the important thing is what citizenship means to you.

McKenzie KY Kitchen Table

By McKenzie

My Kentucky Kitchen Table Project took place in Lexington, Kentucky, my hometown. At the dinner was Cameron, Lexi, Jacob, Kaleb and myself. Cameron is 20 years old and the thing that makes him diverse to the group is that, one, he is the oldest and two, that he is of a minority ethnicity. His mother was born in Guatemala and moved to the U.S. about 30 years ago. He describes himself as very open, caring, and “opinionative to the max”. He said that he is never afraid to share his opinion (which is why we used to be such good friends). Lexi used to be my absolute best friend in high school, to the point of practically my sister. She describes herself as easy-going, very relaxed, very opinionated but more so than not quiet about sharing them. (She did agree to share them for this project and did with every part and tangent within the conversation.) She is 19 years old and from Versailles, Kentucky. One of the things that makes her diverse to the group is her sexual orientation. She asked that I not say more than that. She is very kind-hearted and it showed a lot during the discussion. Kaleb is very quiet. Even when talking one-on-one he isn’t one to lead the conversation. I actually had to ask Lexi to help describe him because he didn’t know how to explain himself when asked. All he said was that he was very quiet and that he seldom has strong opinions and even more seldom expressed them. He was very obviously engaged in the conversation but more so by listening than speaking. He would throw in a lot of “yeah same”s and “I agree”s. The thing that made him diverse to the group was that he was the youngest. He is 16 and still trying to form opinions. Kaleb and Lexi are siblings. Jacob is also quiet but more talkative than Kaleb. He described himself as a very introverted person who loves conspiracy theories and loves to question things and people, especially their reasonings for opinions. This was very much a part of our conversation. Jacob also described himself as being very compassionate. The thing that made Jacob diverse to the group was that he was home-schooled his entire life. I would describe myself similar to Lexi with the exception that I am not quiet about my opinions. If I have an opinion about something, I will say it with no filter more than likely. The thing that made me diverse to the group is I am the only one who is/plans/planned to attend(ing) college. Kaleb is not pictured but was there, he just showed up late and we forgot to take another picture with him because we were already in conversation..

Over the course of the meal we talked about a lot. Upon asking the required question, “Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following the laws, what citizenship mean to you?” I was honestly really surprised at the different responses. Cameron went first answering and essentially started talking about humanity and morals. Lexi picked up and so did the boys, and that kind of started the entire conversation. Overall we talked about what it really means to be living in the town and world we are today, and the different struggles everyone faces on both personal levels and just as groups of people. This meaning things we struggle with as people and how whole races face different struggles. We talked for a long time about morals and empathy. We went to the theme of love and how humans are connected in such a profound way but seem to ignore it. We talked about how there’s so many different ways people divide themselves completely unnecessarily, and how it should really change and how our society needs to change over all. We all are relatively young so I would have liked to have had someone older there, but it didn’t work out. Being so young but so aware really was amazing to me. We talked for almost an hour only about love and empathy and morals, which I found amazing. I’ve had similar conversations but never in such depth with such intellectual and deep thinking. I told them about how in class we talked about the different wicked problems in different moral questions and we spent a long time talking about those questions (incest, soul selling, etc.). All in all our entire conversation from start to end really wrapped around the theme of what it means to be a human and how we need to be better humans, as individuals and as a whole world really.

From this entire discussion I learned a lot about friends that I’ve had for a long time in ways that I didn’t know that I could learn about a person. When you start talking about morals and empathy and what it means to be a human, you learn a lot about a person. I learned a lot about myself as well as I took in all of these peoples’ perspectives and intertwined in with my own personal thoughts and feelings. To tie it into the reading, “The Intuitive Dog and Its Rational Tail,” I let my elephant really show and so did everyone else in the conversation. And it was so intriguing to me. I have a deep love for conversing about topics like this because it really shows a person who they are and shows other people how someone else can think about certain situations that are usually difficult to think about. There were a lot of silences when we were all just kind of thinking and reflecting upon one another. I looked through the list of optional questions and asked a couple referencing neighbors and learned that Lexi and Cameron both do not know anything about their neighbors. I asked why and if they wanted to change that. They both said they did not ever really have the opportunities to meet and talk to them but that if given the chance they probably would. Lexi works at the Humane Society and is an extreme animal lover. She has two dogs and said that she did make it a point to try and figure out which of her neighbors had pets as well. Jacob and Kaleb both live in Versailles; Jacob said he knew his neighbors but not on a personal level, but more so of an ‘I know they exist and have had those awkward waves and smiles while passing them or seeing them for short durations of time’ level.

All of the things that I learned during the dinner relate to what I learned in this class in the sense that I truly got new perspective. In this class, I was introduced to so many different new ways to think about things that I had never truly thought about: from what an actual deliberation is, to what a wicked problem is, to education and patience, to empathy and how to be a better human. I think the one reading that truly stuck with me the most, and that I actually referenced in my dinner at one point, was “To Hell with Good Intentions,” by Ivan Illich. I’m not really sure why, but the whole theme of trying to do something for someone without even truly talking to them, just really blew my mind and made me reflect a lot. I’m one to go out of my way to help someone out, and so are Lexi and Jacob, so they were able to relate. When I told them about this reading, they were both very quiet at first. Lexi deals with and works with volunteers and is involved with volunteering a lot through her work, so she actually really understood the reading and very much so backed it up based on a very general overview I gave of it; we briefly talked about volunteerism and how it should be a bigger part of society and communities and how more people should get involved in that type of work. It’s a great way to make connections, it’s a great way to learn new things and see different types of people. Also with volunteering you can learn a lot about yourself and things you like and dislike and could potentially make a living out of. The central idea of the classes that we touched on the most was how can we live better lives, especially in relation to others.

All in all, having this discussion with these people and after taking this class, I have an entirely new perspective on a lot of things and I am extremely grateful that I have these new perspectives and ways of thinking.

Taylor’s Kentucky Kitchen Table

By Taylor

Happy Thanksgiving frommy family to yours! Although I was disheartened to postpone my Kentucky KitchenTable project, Thanksgiving dinner could not have been a more appropriate venueto discuss citizenship. I did my project in Lafayette, Georgia; a small townthat my grandparents have lived in for as long as I can remember. Mygrandparents, Charles and Marjorie “Jean”, were at the dinner. Charles works asa substitute teacher. In his free time, he does woodwork. Jean loves to sew,cook, and read mystery novels. My mother, Kris, was also one of the guests. Sheis forty-seven years old and teaches elementary school. My mom lives in Somerset,Kentucky. My aunt and uncle, Merri and Keith, also spent Thanksgiving with us.Merri owns her own preschool, and Keith drives the school bus during the dayand works on helicopters during the night. Merri and Keith have four children,but only my baby cousin Annabelle was able to come up for the holiday. Annabelleis eight years old and in the second grade. She loves horseback riding andgymnastics. My aunt, uncle, and little cousin live in Enterprise, Alabama. Mymother and I brought the ham and turkey, my grandparents provided the sides,and my aunt and uncle brought desserts. I thought our dinner was unique becausewe prepared the dishes together, even Annabelle got involved by setting anddecorating the tables!

One of the first questions I asked was the required question, “other than voting and paying taxes, what does citizenship mean to you?” My grandmother was one of the first people to speak up, which was not surprising considering how much she loves to talk. Her thoughts on citizenship were more focused on “being a part of” or “belonging” to a country. As soon as she said that, my uncle Keith jumped in and said that citizenship to him meant taking pride in your country. He explained that citizenship was more than where you were born and raised, it was believing and taking pride in your country. My grandfather agreed with his opinion, but he added onto this definition by saying that citizenship was taking care of your country. I do not have his exact sentence quoted but it was something along the lines of “doing your part, taking care of your neighbors.” My grandfather, who served in the military, had a brotherhood mentality when talking about citizenship.

As the conversation continued, we started talking about the differences between generations. This part of the conversation was especially interesting because we had three different generations at our dinner table! When my grandparents were young, the world looked very different. My grandmother talked about dropping out of school in the eighth grade and getting married. She raised five kids before she finally went back and got her GED and her bachelor’s degree in early childhood development. My grandfather shared his story of growing up on a farm before joining the military. After he retired, he also went back to school and became a teacher. Another super interesting story that my grandparents told was about living in Germany when the Berlin Wall was knocked down! My grandmother still had a piece of it on display in her living room. Overall, I felt like my grandparents’ generation had a close connection to family. Even though couples got married younger, had children sooner, and stayed busy, there was an emphasis on spending time with each other. Dinner was a time set aside for family. Many families today continue this tradition, but in our fast-paced world it takes a lot more effort. This conversation reminded me of the “Power of Patience” by Jennifer Roberts. In this reading, Roberts explained the importance of slowing down. This reading has made me more conscious of taking the extra minutes to have quality conversations with my family and develop a deeper appreciation for them.

 After that conversation ended, I looked over the list of questions in our handout packet. Since we were all from different places, I thought the question “is there anything you can do that might make things better for you and your neighbors where you live?” would be an interesting one to ask. My grandmother chimed in first and said she would love starting a neighborhood watch program. Recently, there have been several robberies around her area. She thought that maybe if the neighbors were watching out for each other, there would be less risk. My mom – who teaches in one of the poorest counties in Kentucky – said she could take a $20 bill, go to Goodwill, and buy every one of her students a winter coat. This conversation tied perfectly into our earlier discussion where we defined citizenship as taking care of your neighbors. My grandma’s idea and my mom’s idea differed so greatly it reminded me of our deliberation projects. One of the biggest things I noticed about all the deliberations was the diversity of topics. Every student saw a different wicked problem in the world based on their personal perspective. Additionally, this conversation made me think about the “Snare of Preparation” by Jane Addams. These actions to make our communities better are not difficult to complete. If we want to define being a citizen as taking care of our neighbors, then to be a good citizen we should follow through with our ideas.

One of the last topics we discussed was about our hometowns. I wanted to end our dinner on a positive note, so I asked, “what is one thing you love about where you live?” My uncle said he loved living around his family. His children still live in Enterprise, and his parents live less than an hour away. My aunt said she loved her preschool and all her babies. My mom said she loved Kentucky because it had all four seasons. I have to say that I agree with my mom, Kentucky has beautiful weather! Unlike Georgia and Alabama, the trees in Kentucky change colors and lose their leaves. The weather goes from 90 degrees to 70 degrees to 50 degrees and so on. In Alabama, there is summer and winter. The temperature is 85 degrees one day and 40 degrees the next. My grandmother said she did not love where she lived, and she would be happier in Florida. She said the warmer weather would help her arthritis (my grandmother also thinks eating ice cream will cure heartburn). My grandfather talked about his extra grandchild, Aria, who lives next door. She’s a little toddler who loves my grandparents to death, and she’s always coming over to play checkers. I asked Annabelle what her favorite thing about Enterprise was and she told me about her horse. This was my favorite conversation of the night because it made everyone smile and think of the wonderful things in our lives.

Overall, I would consider my Kentucky Kitchen Table project a success! The food was great, and we had a great mix of people. Although most of it was my family, we were all from different places and it was very rare for us to get together like this. There were three different generations present and that offered different perspectives on citizenship. I wish my cousin Annabelle was a little older because right now she is too young to have a thoughtful input on these types of conversations. However, I think her perspective when she gets older is going to be interesting because she is bi-racial (half white, half African American) and she is also adopted. I learned a lot about my family, mostly because we never have conversations like this. We never even get together for dinners like this unless it is Thanksgiving or Christmas. This dinner forced me to slow down and talk, and I have gained a better understanding of my family because of that. I hope, moving forward, we can start a tradition of having these important conversations.

Erika’s Kentucky Kitchen Table

Just a side note, I forgot to take a picture. I’m really sorry about that.

On Thanksgiving Day—November 22,2018—a well-educated, goal-oriented, diverse group of people gathered around a table in with copious amounts of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and salad to kick off my Kentucky Kitchen Table in Prospect, Kentucky. There were eight people in attendance– my family and I, and my mom and dad’s family friends (I never knew them as well as my family did). More specifically, in attendance were:

  • My dad, who is your typical middle-aged white man. He immigrated to the United States from Finland in 1998. Currently, he works in IT as a web architect in the Humana Military Department
  • My mom, who immigrated to the United States from Romania in 1992. She used to work as a Project Manager in various automobile factories but is currently unemployed.
  • Markus, my little brother who is sixteen years old. He attends North Oldham High School.
  • Amir, my parents’ friend. He immigrated to the United States from Iran. His uncle was the Vice Prime Minister under Mohammed Reza Shah Pallavi. Currently, he is an engineering professor at the University of Louisville.
  • Mitra, who is also my parents’ friend and Amir’s wife. She is also from Iran but was educated in Austria from grade school through medical school. She is currently a full-time doctor.
  • Arya, my brother’s friend and Amir and Mitra’s son. He is also sixteen years old and attends a private high school in Louisville (Trinity High School).
  • Tonya is a particularly motivated 11-year-old I used to coach. She currently attends Saint Francis, a private middle school in Goshen, Kentucky.

It was interesting to see the various definitions of citizenship arise throughout the conversation.Primarily, I asked “What does citizenship mean to you apart from voting, paying taxes, and following laws?” The adults—my mom, dad, Mitra, and Amir—all seemed to agree that it meant helping others. Amir added that it meant donating to charity to help citizens less fortunate than us. My dad responded by saying“Well, if I were to say donating to charity, I’m afraid I would be a hypocrite.” But Arya, Markus, and Tonya seemed to agree that it meant “the golden rule: treat others the way you want to be treated.” Perhaps the group consensus was that basic human decency and compassion towards each other. Nonetheless, this set a precedent for the schism of opinions between the adults and minors at the table.

The kind of community everyone wanted to live in tied closely to the two biggest social issues everyone cared about (table-wide): guns and drugs. Amir and my dad, then later my mom, Mitra, and Arya, all agreed that “[We] would like to live in a gun and drug free community.” Mitra chimed in, claiming “I actually wouldn’t even care if we made the laws so that responsible people had guns for self-protection, but why would anyone need a militarized weapon?” Inevitably, the discussion led into theNRA’s domination of the Republican party, and subsequently, the government. A recurrent theme for this question, and later in advice for those running for office, was the NRA and political financing. Mitra also added that the education system should be improved. Markus, Arya, and Tonya subsequently shared their school experiences and felt that they were not being challenged enough based on the level of classes they were in. Markus complained about too little homework, being bored in class, and not being motivated enough to work any harder. I added that the lack of motivation and discussion of civic engagement within the education system might be the cause of some societal issues today. Considering the audience at the table—a professor, a doctor, two engineers, and their children—it is no surprise everyone agreed. I did not feel this when I was in high school, and it came as a shock to me and the parents around the table to learn how students currently in the education system feel it is failing them—and they do not even get to vote for politicians who could potentially reform the educational system.

When giving advice to those running for office, Mitra, Amir, my dad, and my mom stressed the importance of being“for the people” instead of money—both democrats and republicans alike. They discussed how the Republican Party was bought out by the NRA and rich people and how the Democrat Party was bought out by Labor Unions and rich people. Even though I would say that I had a relatively informed audience, learning that citizens with political efficacy have such a negative view of politics was a little disheartening. But they do have a point– the fact that that representatives are more representative of the organizations that fund them than the people who elect them is a major threat to our role as citizens. And now I am aware that people are coming to believe that their votes matter less than money: Although he did not mention this at the table, my dad has previously told me that he has been discouraged from voting in the past for this reason. I asked the kids what advice they would give, and interestingly,Tonya goes “give everybody a turn!” While this did not quite answer the question, it did turn into a discussion about imposing a limit on the number of terms a congressman/woman should be able to serve.

Additionally, everybody agreed that knowing your neighbors is important. When I asked “why,” nobody could think of an answer right off the bat. Markus was the first to break the silence and said,“in case of an emergency?” But after even more thought to the question, my dad said,“I guess it’s just a good thing to socialize,” and everybody seemed to accept that as an answer. It still leaves me wondering why it is necessarily a good thing to know your neighbor (even if I do agree it is a good thing)?

I finally asked “what kind of person do you want to be?” To that Mitra, Amir, and my mom basically said successful and good at their jobs. Markus said “smart,” and Arya said “smart and hardworking.” Then Tonya said, “I want to be a good person” and the conversation fell silent. I am pretty sure this is where everybody, including myself, re-evaluated their priorities. My dad then said, “I would like to be kind and compassionate.” Even though it was the end of the discussion, this was when the difference of opinions between the adults and minors at the table became evident to me. We all know kids tend to be idealistic, but why is their idealism often swept under the rug? And where did this difference come from?This is what I have come to learn through my KKT: We all start by holding idealistic viewpoints—and those were applied to our perceptions of citizenship and community. For the most part, we grew up respecting the president and other authorities in our community, no matter the political party, and thought we would go out into society as adults with the same optimism. However, experience hardens us. Political apathy is developed over time, not only when we decide other obligations are more important, but also when we become discouraged by the corruption we come face to face with on a daily basis.

The responses to “what kind of person do you want to be?” actually made me think about the article If it Feels Right by David Brooks. Even though he discusses the drawbacks of young people’s morals being built individually, as opposed to communally, I cannot help but to think how wrong he was in this case. The older people at the table seemed to agree that they would like to be successful and good at their jobs—but they did not say anything about wanting to be kind until Tonya, the youngest member at the table, said she wanted to be kind. This is not quite a moral dilemma, but the adults’, and even teenagers’, priorities give insight to their communally- based morals, which could possibly mean putting costly success above basic compassion. There are dangers of extreme individualism in a deliberative environment, but what about a case in which it really is the morally-correct opinion to have?

This can also relate to the centralHonors 251 idea of giving others more say over their own lives. It was quite evident that the minors in the discussion cared about various societal issues—guns, drugs, education, community—but they do not have the power to vote and are often not considered in the policymaking process. In fact, their opinions are often disregarded by adults within their communities, sometimes even their own parents. This in itself is a societal issue that has been previously debated with solutions such as lowering the voting age. But, obviously, it is necessary to develop more options. When we contemplate groups of people who need to be given more of a say over their own lives, we must include minors. They are out future, and they play a fundamental role in our community.

McCall’s Kentucky Kitchen Table

            For my Kentucky Kitchen Table project, I ate dinner at my friend Jenna’s house on Friday, November 23, where I was joined by her and her family. I ate dinner with Jenna, her mother Denise, her father John, and her older brother Blake. Jenna is my friend from home who I became close to my senior year of high school. Jenna is now a senior at Walton-Verona High School. Prior to eating dinner with her, I had not seen Jenna in three months. Denise is a registered nurse at St. Elizabeth health center. John is a police officer at the Boone County Sheriff’s Department. Blake was a student at Lindsey Wilson College and is transferring to the University of Kentucky. We started off the dinner by talking about the Christmas tree that the family had just finished putting up in the living room. John talked to me about how he had a live tree every year growing up and how this year he decided to buy a live tree for his family. To preface the situation in a bit more detail for Jenna, Denise, John, and Blake, I talked about what Honors 251 is as a class. I described that Citizen and Self is a class focused on the social dilemmas and responsibilities faced by society and is based heavily in discussion between classmates. I asked the family the required question, “Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you?” John seemed to speak up more often than the rest ofthe family and was clearly passionate about the topic of civic duties which is understandable considering his profession. To John, from what I can recall,citizenship meant contributing to society through work, being in the country legally, and obeying the laws. I realize that the question tries to exclude obeying the laws as a response, but John made it known that obeying the laws andrespecting authority is a large part of what he considers to be citizenship. John spoke calmly but firmly about the value he places on cooperation between citizens and law enforcement. John spoke passionately about his father immigrating from Europe as a child, bringing a perspective to his opinions that I would not have guessed. Denise took a more sensitive approach to her answer, focusing more on community relations. She thought of citizenship on a more individual, person to person level. To Denise, citizenship means helping others in order tomake the community a better place. Jenna, being a student all her life, valued going to school and getting her education as part of her duty as a citizen. Blake remained awfully quiet at the beginning of the discussion. I decided to shift the conversation to a different question to focus more on our own community on a smaller scale. I asked, “What is the thing you love most about living where you do?” Everyone around the table could agree that the main advantage of living in Northern Kentucky is the location geographically. We allagreed that we enjoyed living so close to a big city like Cincinnati without actually living inside the city. John pointed out that Northern Kentucky is generally a safe area with people who know each other and take pride in the area. John pointed out that economically Northern Kentucky is a good place to live due to the abundance of jobs brought by the industrial parks stationed there by big companies. After sharing stories about my grandparent’s old restaurant in my hometown called “Ponzer’s,” and Blake sharing stories from working at his uncle’s t-shirt printing business, I asked one last specific question to touch on the religious aspect of citizen’s lives. I asked, “Does your religious identity affect how you think we should treat other people?” Immediately, the entire family spoke a unanimous yes. I asked them to elaborate and Denise told me that she feels called by her religion to love other people. Her take on religion seemed to be her own answer to the question “How can we live better together?” According to Denise, Jenna, John, and Blake, loving one another and caring for each other is how we can live better together as a society.

Jess’ Kentucky Kitchen Table

My Kentucky Kitchen Table was held on November 22, 2018 at my parents home in Rineyville, Kentucky. Due to it being Thanksgiving, my entire immediate family was present with the addition of spouses. Although a family usually does not bring much diversity to the table, the presence of spouses who come from a different background and the separation of age between my siblings provided diversity that was very prevalent in the conversation. My Mother, Donna, who is 55 years old, works for Human Resources for the Army and grew up in St. Louis, MO in a Lower-Mid Middle Class family. My Father, Tim, who is 57, works as a Construction Manager for an Apartment complex in Elizabethtown. He also grew up in St. Louis with a large family that did not make a lot of money. Together they had four kids. My sister Amanda is the oldest and she is 30. She is a stay at home mom while her husband TJ, 28, is a Nurse at a hospital in St. Louis. My next sibling, Michael, 27, is a Middle School Math teacher in Kansas City, MO. His wife Maria, 25, also teaches math in Kansas City. My last brother Zach, 20, is a junior at WKU. His wife Taylor, 22, works for admissions at the University and they are the typical low income married college couple that struggles to get by. The spouses of my siblings are very different from one another and from my immediate family, though I would say that Maria comes from a family most similar to mine. TJ comes from a slightly broken family and he describes his upbringing  as one where he had to work very hard to have the success he has had today. Taylor is from a very small town in Kentucky called Beaver Dam. Her small-town upbringing makes her view the world in a very different way than she sees of her husband. Overall, while all of the people at my Kentucky Kitchen Table were white, the experiences and class status of the people present was diverse and even the regional origin of everyone present brought different sides to the story. 

The conversation started with me asking everyone at the table, “Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you?” Tim started the conversation with a broad explanation that citizenship is in part about patriotism and pride for ones country, followed by an incorporation of morality and doing good that every person possesses. People seemed to agree with this statement but Michael, who has a degree in Social Studies, added that citizenship is about using your morality to seek out problems around you in order to better improve the world we live in. I found that this directly corresponded to the overall theme of the class in that we often talk about how to better improve the world we live in. In response to this statement by Michael, I asked about how we should go about improving the world around us. This stumped everyone for a little bit. Everyone agreed that citizenship is about improving society and the world, but no one could seem to give a good process. Zach asked for an example. I gave the example of income inequality because I knew it would garner differing opinions. I framed the example by saying that it is obvious that there is a problem of income inequality in the United States and the world, but how are we supposed to fix it, or is it even our duty as citizens to do so. Right off the bat everyone agreed it is our duty to address the problem. However, the ways that people proposed were very different. Michael proposed an approach at local government. He used his experience as a teacher to talk about how he sees income inequality and its affects on other aspects of society, specifically education, every single day. He said that if we get involved with local government, it will help the issue more directly. In retrosepct, it seems like Michael believes that part of solving problems is starting on a more direct level. Getting involved at the source of the issue while still getting involved with a sense of power seemed to be his solution to solving problems as citizens. Donna agreed with this but questioned what was to be done about the issue while things were being solved behind closed doors. Zach agreed and said that he trusts the government and thinks  getting involved locally is a good idea but he doesn’t know how the people who are being directly affected by this issue are supposed to wait for aid while they struggle every day. This is when TJ jumped in with a very different opinion. He seemed to back out on his original opinion that this was an issue that was our responsibility to solve because he offered the antidote of his own experience growing up poor and making his way to a healthy living as a nurse. Michael respected this but brought in his own two cents about how he was better supported to get to his healthy living because of multiple reasons including his skin color, his gender, and his educational opportunities. 

Unfortunately, this is where the conversation took a turn. TJ disagreed strongly that those factors helped him get to where he is. He attributes his success on hard work, not his race, gender, or educational opportunities. Michael attempted to explain to TJ that he does not mean that TJ did not work hard, only that factors, and he put an emphasis on education, helped him achieve his success easier. This debate went back and forth for a little with additions from Tim, Zach and Donna but overall the debate was going nowhere. In hindsight, I wish I would have been able to redirect this conversation and bring it back to the issue of citizenship but it was hard considering the personal stakes involved. However, the conversation proved to me just how hard these wicked problems are to solve, let alone talk about. Everyone has their own idea of the world based on their personal experiences. I for one tried to stay out of the debate because I knew that I viewed the discussion very differently from my family despite the fact that we are indeed a family.

To me this just shows how important it is to listen to one another with an open mind, which is something we touched on in class quite often. It is clear that we all have opinions that are shaped by experiences, but I also think it is safe to say that while we each have our own truths, we still need to work to find a common ground to solve problems. I somehow managed to formulate this idea to my group by the end of the conversation and while we all agreed, I still felt discouraged that it was so hard to find that common ground. Now as I type this, I understand that the entire point of wicked problems is that they do take time to solve. As I reflect on my KKT, I believe that even though in the end nobodies mind was changed on how to solve issues as citizens, the conversation itself was started. I think that the problem with citizenship is that we oftentimes start these conversations but never do anything to step inside the shoes of the other side. I think that in order to find a middle ground and begin solving issues, we need to, as a government and as citizens, have conversations and then place ourselves directly in the place of the other argument in order to simulate their life experiences and why they believe what they do so that we can begin looking at issues with fresh eyes. This is not easy by any means. It is natural to want to view the world through our eyes. However, if we are to progress and grow as a nation and as individuals, we need to begin to look at the world through the eyes of those around us every once in a while. I think it would do us all some good.