A Kentucky Kitchen Table in Sparta

By Shelby

My Kentucky Kitchen Table took place on my family farm in Sparta, Kentucky. Sparta is a very small town in rural Gallatin County, the smallest county in Kentucky. To give you a feel for my county, there is one school in the entire county and the residents create a tightknit hometown community. Local businesses paint their windows in support of the high school football team every Friday night. Nearly all of Gallatin County can be found on the Ohio riverfront every Fourth of July for a celebration and fireworks. Farmland and fields stretch for miles on the outskirts of the small towns, my home being one such farm.
Over fall break, I went home and invited coaches and players from my high school’s girls soccer team to come to my dinner. My dad started the program several years ago, and continues to coach but has recently gained two assistant coaches. It was previously agreed that my mother and I would prepare a meal of baked chicken, green beans, macaroni and cheese, garden salad, and dinner rolls, and this was shared with my parents, Rick and Shelia, as well as, Nate, Kelsey, Hannah, and Angie. Rick is a dentist and a farmer, while my Shelia works at the front desk of his dental office. Both are college graduates who moved from Louisville, Kentucky to Sparta and have become active community members through church, are involved with the local school system, and have served on various community boards. They have spent many years coaching recreational sports for youth in our community, myself and my brothers included.
Nate and Hannah are the assistant soccer coaches. This previous season was their first season of coaching, so while I was somewhat familiar with Hannah who is a teacher at the local high school, I had not met Nate prior to their season. Nate works at one of the steel manufacturing plants in Gallatin County and has been a lifelong county resident who attended school in the Gallatin County School District many years ago. His daughter, Kelsey, is a freshman at Gallatin County High School and plays on the soccer team. Hannah is a special education teacher at Gallatin County High School and is originally from Norwood, Ohio. She attended Xavier University and moved to Gallatin County upon gaining a teaching position. Angie is from Mexico and moved to Kentucky with her family several years ago. She is a high school freshman, but she attends the ILEAD Academy which is an accelerated program that allows high school students to take college courses and earn a bachelors degree within two years after graduating high school.
As none of the unrelated individuals who came to my Kentucky Kitchen Table had previously been to my house, the Kentucky Speedway across the road from my house was an immediate topic of conversation. The placement of the racetrack in Gallatin County was a controversial topic when it was established and remains as such today. Many believed that such an attraction would bring economic growth to the county, and while it has been productive in many ways, it has also brought complications to the rural county. We discussed how the Kentucky Speedway hosts only two races a year and occasionally hosts charity events such cancer walks and car shows. While the Nascar races attract fans from all over the country, boosting businesses for a few days, Gallatin County does not have the facilities nor the infrastructure to host this influx of people. Traffic is atrocious on race days and intoxicated individuals flood the roads at the conclusion of races, causing headaches for locals and the police department.
The Speedway is an example of experts who lacked the knowledge and experience of life in Gallatin County making decisions for the community. The good intention of bringing economic growth and development to the rural county actually exacerbated problems, similar to the concepts discussed in Ivan Illich’s “To Hell with Good Intentions.” Initially, my guests thought it would be fascinating to live so close to a landmark like the Speedway, but upon learning of the problems that accompany the racetrack, they decided it might not be as exciting as they originally thought.
Our discussion transitioned to school and the role of technology, as well as, its affects on how students interact and complete school work. During the 2016-2017 school year, all students in the local high school were provided with Chromebook laptops in their One to One Program. Online classrooms have since been used to post assignments, provide additional resources, and reinforce concepts taught in the physical classrooms. This has given students access to classroom materials online and allowed the school to reduce paper expenditures. The computers also serve as a method for students to gain access to unlimited information and easy communication. While these seem like beneficial results of the One to One Program, Hannah discussed how she has noticed students lacking patience that might be traced to children being taught to want immediate gratification about their inquiries as a result of technology. The computers, in combination with personal cell phones, allow students to immediately find answers to questions and problems. While this is beneficial in many regards, as Hannah mentioned, it might reduce students’ capacities for patience.
This brought me to the “Power of Patience,” article by Jennifer Roberts we read and discussed in class about the teacher who gave her students the assignment of observing a painting for three hours. In this study, patience was used as a learning tool, and Hannah agreed that while technology has a very important role in classrooms, patience is also crucial to learning, as well as, developing social skills. She actually searched for an image of the Boy with a Squirrel painting, and I explained how it was created to represent the time it was meant to endure.
Following our conversation about school and the skills students gain or fail to gain in high school, I asked my guests what citizenship meant to them, beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws. Shelia’s idea of citizenship revolved around being an active citizen in your own community by participating in community events and programs that might include volunteering at the food pantry or organizing sports for local children. She also believes that citizens should be responsible for being aware of current events and life around them. Nate used the current situation in the NFL concerning the decision of many players to kneel during the national anthem to help explain his idea of citizenship. As a member of the Freemason Society, he felt that it was disrespectful to the American flag and to the men and women who have served in the armed forces to kneel during the anthem. This topic has become very controversial across the nation as a whole. It began as a movement to raise awareness about racial tensions, but many believe it has developed into a protest to President Trump’s comments and behavior toward athletes in the NFL. Nate felt that citizenship should encompass a certain level of respect for one’s country, its values, and those who defend those values.
Rick suggested that citizenship was based on family and helping others. He believed parents should be involved in their children’s lives, teaching them to act responsibly, and individuals should help others if they are capable of doing so. He raised the topic of the Las Vegas Shooting that had recently taken place and mentioned how some people’s first reaction was to run to safety, while others immediately looked to protect people by ushering them to safety or laying over their bodies to shield them from the raining bullets. Those who put the needs and safety of others before themselves were demonstrating true citizenship in his opinion.
This led to a discussion about moral obligation, and I asked if we were morally obligated to help others and if so, to what extent were we obligated. The general consensus was that if you are capable of helping someone in need, you should help them. However, the proximity of the issue and any possible threat to one’s own safety were critical factors to be considered. I told my guests about the video of the young Chinese girl who was run over by the van and how everyone who passed her simply left her lying in the street. Kelsey found it hard to believe that no one would help the young girl, and it was suggested that the situation would be handled differently in America and likely most other countries. It is possible that children and the obligation to help others is seen differently by varying cultures. Hannah suggested that people are much more likely to help women and children than men because of a social notion relating children and innocence. People become more conscious of their own safety when grown men are involved, thus they are less likely to help an adult male.
I questioned if there was a difference in the moral obligation of helping someone you can see versus helping, for example, those forced to work in a sweat shop in another country to support themselves and their families. My guests said they would not necessarily feel obligated to help in this situation because different cultures have different issues, values, and standards of living.
After our dinner, we all went out to our barn, and Kelsey and Angie helped me feed chickens and horses. Because I graduated before they entered high school, I did not know them very well, and they had been quieter during dinner. Feeding the animals gave me an opportunity to share some of my experiences growing up on a farm with them. This interaction seemed easier for them to relate with, and Angie told us about her experiences raising chickens when her family lived in Mexico.
My Kentucky Kitchen Table allowed me to connect with people who I did not know particularly well and gain insights about topics that I had not previously considered. I learned that citizenship can embody numerous meanings, and those meanings largely depend on individual interpretations of the word. There was a general consensus in the idea that citizenship involved helping others in the community, and this concept would allow individuals to live better together, an idea central to our class. We can be better citizens by respecting the ideas and beliefs of others, helping those in need, and being active in our community. According to our Smart Communities reading by Suzanne Morse, individuals who are engaged in community affairs are more likely to take ownership of their community. This is crucial to living well with fellow citizens and might help us cross the bridge to where society should be with communities we are proud to call home.

Not pictured in the image: Shelia


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