I am an average man of 54. I teach middle school U.S. History in an international school with students from 32 different countries. I have to admit it is very hard to teach history these days. Very hard. The world in which we live seems to be on a heading towards the end of democracy’s timeline. As a history teacher, I see the world as an algorithm timeline. Events happen that affect time greatly and some that affect time not at all. In the age of social media, we live in it seems that everyone wants their ‘post’ to change the world or at least get a million ‘likes’. What we thought was news and information I am now questioned and what we thought was gossip is taken for a fact because someone we ‘follow’ on social media. Why do we follow them? Still trying to figure this one out. Another article maybe.
I work overseas in Belgium, but I live in Minnesota. I am due to retire soon. I already have my MN AARP card and my wife and I have are sites set on what we are going to do in our retirement. My wife wants to relax. I am a military vet, artist, writer, and doctor of education find myself not wanting to sit idly by as I see this country of my birth, that I have not really been accepted into goes in a direction I have seen it go before. Yes, I have seen this before.
During the 70s and 80s I was of a rare breed in society; A Black Punk. We were very few and not known much. We were the outcast of our own race and outsiders inside a world that used us to define a little known word at the time; diversity. I did not know if diversity was the word that was used at the time. I think we used the word ‘friends’. Even in this group of upstate NY punks, 2 hours out of the city I still felt an outsider. I was not a migrant from the middle-class suburban school district moving into the city of Poughkeepsie to be a part of the ‘scene’. I was just some recently homeless kid from Newburgh escaping the attacks of everyone in my black neighborhood who thought I was crazy because of the music I listened to and the way I dressed. I thought the few people who accepted me in this new city would just let me be and let me hang out for a while.
Back then we were questioning everything and being ourselves. Back then ‘social media’ was a social gathering at someone’s house or the late-night dinner after the bars closed. Back then we would get together and talk about what we knew and didn’t know and then go out and research and discover as close to the truth as we could. Then meet up again as friends and do the same thing all over again. We would do this while being artists, and musicians, and writers, and students, and cooks, and mechanics, and janitors, and just people who were in search of a better understanding of ourselves and our place in the world.
Many of us have gone on to other things. Some of us have passed away. No one knew where we would end up, just that we wanted to know more. I never saw myself joining the military, going to combat, becoming a teacher and living in Panama, Iceland, and Belgium. I would have never thought I would have a wife and two daughters. I am happy that both of my daughters have degrees in the Arts. The arts have given them what it has given me and still gives me when I go to my studio after class, It allows me to keep asking questions of myself and where I fit in this world. And asking that question caused me to look at this world that same way I did all those years ago. Every question leads to research, which gets me closer to the truth and a better question. Which leads me to more discovery of my world and myself.
The deeper question that runs through me these days is, with the age of social media directing our thoughts like they did when MTV decided to define for us what was music and began to kill the beautiful artistic musicianship of the small club bands. Will 2020 bring clarity to our society? Or are our mental lenses so out of focus that clarity can only be seen as distorted? Are we capable of seeing that social media has adjusted our focus to that point to where if we were to look away from the screen we would have to refocus not only our eyes but our minds as well?
I never got into MTV because it had to be threatened with a boycott just to play a black video (Michael Jackson). Because Blacks had to start their own video channel (BET) and once the artist showed the industry there was a market for Black videos, guess what, MTV had black videos. And all the while still no Black punk bands (unless you count Living Color, I do). None of this had changed my search for the truth, something I teach my students every day in class. They were not alive before the internet. They know no other way of finding the answers to the questions. I fear they do not know how to ask the right questions because the internet has given them all the answers to questions they have not even asked. The internet was supposed to be the beginning of the research, not the end. The internet was supposed to be the starting point from which to begin your discovery. It has become filled with opinions and not answers. It has become the place where the truth is questioned and not verified.
So I find myself these days in my history class fighting off parents and students who question every piece of truth we as a class discover because the internet has shown them an alternative point of view. Do I say “you are wrong? I am an expert!!” No. This is why I became a teacher. To show all sides of the world and let the student determine, based on facts what is the truth. No, I just ask, “based on what facts and how valid are these facts” We all get to choose our opinion, but no one gets to choose their facts. Facts are facts. This is the clarity of 2020 I am hoping for. I am hoping that the clarity of facts allows humans to refocus their lenses so that they can see what this Black Punk saw in Poughkeepsie NY in the 80s and still sees today teaching U.S. History.
It’s not about getting the right answers, its about learning how to ask the right question. The question I keep asking every time I go to my studio is; Where does a (today 54-year-old) Black artist, educator, veteran, musician, Punk fit into America. So I am counting down to retirement from teaching and to the next phase of my life. I have my Minnesota AARP card and ready. This Black Punk is ready, just no stage diving this time around.
Dr. John F.F. DuBose EdD.