My name is Alex and I conducted my Kentucky Kitchen table on April 1st in my hometown of Crestwood. My Kentucky Kitchen Table had eight people/two families attend. I am a freshman undergraduate student at Western Kentucky University studying physics and Chinese. My sister, Chloe, is a sophomore at Oldham County High School and often participates in drama productions. My parents are Colleen and Terry and they both work in Louisville as salespeople. The other family that attended has two daughters Elena, who participates in Oldham County High School’s band as a senior flute player, and Olivia, who is on the Oldham County High School female soccer team as a freshman. Their parents are Andrea and Damon, Andrea is a substitute teacher in the area, and Damon works at the Ford plant in Louisville.
The first thing I did after we all got our food was ask everyone the required question “Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you?” My father was the first one to answer. He talked about his military service and how being an American citizen means representing American ideals abroad. He mentioned that when he was in the military he was deployed to West Germany he was constantly told that he was a representative of America during his time abroad. While representing America abroad he thought it was extremely important to embody what he thought America stands for, namely freedom and justice for all.
Damon answered next saying something similar and talking a lot about the time that he spent in the military while he was younger. He thinks that every American citizen has a duty to be a model person for everyone else. He elaborated saying things along the lines as an American citizen it is our duty to help those who suffer from injustices both in America and abroad. He saw America as being a protector of the world in sense and thought that we should do our best to help all impoverished and developing nations. He also talked about the founding fathers and what he thought their ideal citizen would be and how we should all aspire to act like that. In his words, a model citizen would be one who is not afraid to protest what they think to be a bad government and is willing to speak their mind and encounter opposing viewpoints, while at the same time they recognize that freedom of speech allows everyone to voice their own opinion.
Andrea chimed in next saying that being a citizen meant living with everyone else harmoniously. She said that as a citizen we have to realize that we are just a part of America as a whole and have a responsibility to live with everyone else. As a citizen we should realize that what might be in our personal best interest might not be the best for a majority of people. Colleen agreed with her saying, being a citizen means that sometimes we have to put the needs of others before our self because we live together in an integrated society.
I said that being a citizen meant that you have the responsibility to try to improve the country you live in to the best of your knowledge. By that I mean the duty of all citizens is to make sure that the government is taking the best care of its citizens as possible. Whether that means actively participating in a democracy or protesting the unjust treatment of some citizens by the government, I believe that being a citizen means that you have a responsibility to look out for other citizens and yourself through whatever means are available to you. The three high school girls all thought along the same lines as me saying that being a citizen means that you should actively participate in government if possible, whether that be through running for office, voting, or protesting.
After that required question the conversation turned back into regular topics that you would discuss at a regular dinner such as, how have things been going recently, how is school going etc. School was a heavily discussed topic for many reasons. Elena is a senior in high school, so everyone wanted to know where she was thinking about going to college. Because of that we discussed the role of college in America and what the benefits and disadvantages of it were currently. All four parents had gone to college, I was the only current college student at the table, and all three high school girls had plans to eventually go to college themselves. Because of each of our different experiences, we all had different opinions on what going to college meant. All four adults agreed that in order to have a better chance at getting a good job it is very important to go to college; however, they also acknowledged that trade schools and community colleges were helpful and sometime necessary steps in getting there. The two fathers were especially adamant about needing to go to college to have a successful future and mentioned how they both went into the military in order to independently pay for the cost. As a current college student, I chimed in saying that the price of college has dramatically risen in the time since the four adults had gone to college and not only is it much harder for everyone to go to college today, it is probably more important for people to go as well. I am extremely lucky to not have to worry about my financial situation as an undergraduate currently; however, I chose to not have loans instead of going to a different university. Elena, the high school senior, echoed my sentiments saying she is currently having a difficult time choosing between what is considered a better university and a university where she won’t have to have student loans. In addition to that, in my field of study, physics, it is almost automatically assumed that I have to go to graduate school in order to eventually find a good job. Because of that I have to take into consideration that I will spend more time and more money in higher education and have to plan my future accordingly. At the end of that discussion everyone agreed that getting a higher education is some form is in a large majority of cases the best decision, but there are some situations where the disadvantages may seem too large a difficulty to overcome so not pursuing more education would be the better path.
The topic of conversation stayed with schools but shifted from universities to high schools, middle schools, and elementary schools. This was because of the recent changes made to the teacher’s pensions by the state legislature. This resulted in Oldham County Schools cancelling school for the previous Friday due to teachers protesting, Andrea had very strong feelings about the changes to the pension fund because she is a substitute teacher and has many friends who are full time teachers in the local area. With the changes to the pensions almost universally hurting teachers, she vehemently opposed the changes to the fund. She mentioned how Kentucky already had one of the approval lowest ratings in the nation from teachers and little to no counties have a functioning teachers union to help teachers in situations like this. All of the kids at the table agreed with her because we all thought that teachers deserve better pay and more respect from the government, especially with how challenging the job can be. There was a differing opinion at the table. My father, Terry, is a pretty hardcore conservative and generally favors changes that can help save the state/federal government money, so for him this change made sense because it was the state government altering the budget to help save more money. He did understand our viewpoints on the topic, but still believed that saving the government money is more important than the cost of reducing teachers’ pensions. For him, the pension cuts were less about the teachers losing money and more about the state relocating funds to better help other people who may need it more.
Overall, hosting this Kentucky Kitchen Table was a learning experience because I never had a conversation like this with my family and friends in this kind of setting. I think that having a political conversation while eating dinner with people you know and are familiar with makes the conversation go much smoother than if you tried it in a different setting or with different people. Everyone feels familiar with a dinner table and if you don’t have anything to say, you don’t have to sit awkwardly and listen to everyone else talk, instead you can enjoy the meal and the conversation. In addition, talking with people you are already familiar with makes it easier to know which topics to avoid because of experiences or extreme opinions, if those exist. At the end of the discussion I felt that everyone had seen a new perspective on at least one topic that we talked about and everyone had thought about politics in a way they hadn’t before. The biggest thing that I think everyone took out of it was that, having a political discussion doesn’t have to be a scary thing that involves a lot of shouting or disagreements but instead can be an insightful conversation.