Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Learning Moment

One of my quieter students asked a really good question today.

I gave a lecture about conditions in industrial cities from 1850-1920 -- the overcrowding, the disease, the crime, etc. -- and the social reformer/progressive response to it, from Jacob Riis and Lewis Hine to Jane Addams and settlement houses. We talked about how transportation, particularly the lack of it for poorer people, made conditions worse for working-class people and families. We looked at pictures of entire cities decimated by fire that looked hauntingly familiar to today's pictures of the Delta.

We got to talking about race and class and civil responsibility.

In the middle of it all, one student raised his hand and asked with a straight face, "Do you think people really feel better when the President visits?"

It's the prototypical social reformer response. Visit for a day and deplore the conditions. Then get back on your plane and ensconce yourself in your bubble of wealth. Talk talk talk.

The times, they aren't changing. Maybe next decade.

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