Old Friends, New Topics

KKTBy Scott

What a great time to host a dinner with so many unique conversation opportunities! On November 21st, two days before Thanksgiving, we gathered at our Manhattan home for a Kansas Kitchen Table dinner.  We chose to sidestep a pot-luck and make home-made pizzas instead.  Our gathering included my wife Shauna, our neighbor Shirley, family friends Cory and Amanda, and classmates Justin and Andra.

Shirley has lived in the same Manhattan home for nearly 50 years and spends her time in retirement traveling with her husband Bob. Although we have “known” Shirley and Bob for nearly 20 years, this is only the second time we have had dinner together.  Unfortunately, Bob was ill this evening and was not able to participate.  Cory was one of the first kids our son met when we moved into our neighborhood in 1999.  His wife Amanda teaches Dramatic Arts at Topeka High School.  We know Cory and Amanda well, but since we don’t usually spend time discussing politics, tonight’s discussion allowed us to learn about each other in a different way.  Andra is in two rhetoric courses with me and is from Olathe, Kansas.  Justin is a linebacker on the Kansas State University football team and we have three courses together. Our group included representatives from the Baby Boomers, Gen X, Millennials, and Gen Z.  We are from Atlanta Georgia, Olathe Kansas, Manhattan Kansas, and the Mountain West.  I felt that our diverse group of participants provided a great representation of time, space, and experiences that showed itself during our dinner conversation and our discussion on democracy and citizenship.

Cory and Amanda arrived first and we spent a few minutes catching up on life and appreciating their relief at having the next few days off work.  They had driven from Topeka, and were happy to just relax for a bit. As more guests arrived, we expanded our conversation to make room for introductions, short histories, and general pleasantries.  Shirley arrived next, and we spent some time talking about how she remembered our house from 40 years ago when the original owners lived here.  It was nice that she knew about our home’s history and was able to share her memories with us.  Andra arrived a few minutes later and was followed shortly by Justin.  Once everyone arrived, our casual conversations turned more serious as I described how we would make our pizzas.  It turns out that not many people have made their own pizzas, so we were in for an adventure.  While we were making our pizzas, we engaged in familiarizing conversations – using short personal stories to get to know each other better.

Amanda shared stories about the plays she directed in Wichita and Topeka, and provided our group with some light-hearted anecdotes that helped set the mood as light, funny, and fun.  Her stories provided the opportunity everyone needed to settle in to their unfamiliar setting and get comfortable with each other.  Justin, Shirley and Andra spent some time talking about football and the great win the team had over Oklahoma State – it was an animated, high energy exchange between a player and his newfound fans.  Andra, Justin and I talked some about upcoming assignments that piqued the curiosity of the other guests, who were interested in the details of our small group deliberation event later in the month, and the events on campus that led to that project.  We spent some time discussing the rare opportunity we had to work with another course to address campus civility issues.  These conversations provided an easy segue into our main discussion topic – democracy and citizenship.

Amanda kicked off our discussion on the topic of citizenship benefits and responsibilities and we worked our way around the table to hear everyone’s ideas.  As we took our turns there were many pauses so that we could ask and answer questions, explore conflicting views, and in some cases, search for ways ideas could be incorporated into a broader idea of citizenship.  Ideas about responsible citizenship included some of the basics like voting, taxes, law abidance, and jury duty, but also included the idea that the only true responsibility of citizenship might be “obeying the law.”  It was interesting to hear Cory’s perspective that citizenship responsibilities could be satisfied by not inhibiting progress by others.  Cory suggested that a person who spent their entire life in meditation shared the same benefits of citizenship as someone who was a political or social activist or volunteered all of their free time supporting others.  As we worked our way around the table, the general agreement was that there is a difference between responsibilities of citizenship and the responsibilities of community.  Everyone agreed that we should act to safeguard our families, neighbors, and communities, and that we share a responsibility, according to our abilities, for making our communities better places to live.  We took turns choosing follow-up questions and spent quite a lot of time on the questions:  “Do you know your neighbors,” “What kind of person do you want to be” and “What social issue is closest to your heart and why?”  I felt that our group was pretty unified in our expectations for each other and our community.

Our gathering provided a clear example of how we can use small groups to shape our democratic society. Although our gathering was not organic, we took away the same lessons that an organic gathering would have produced; that each of our group members was able to see how repeated discussions could lead to the development and adoption of actionable ideas to improve our communities.  Amanda and Cory saw that they could impact their neighborhood safety if they become more aware of their neighbors. And, that I might achieve better outcomes on improving our neighborhood roads if I work with my neighbors to build a unified voice.  We each have an anecdotal example of how we can extend our discussions outside the kitchen to put our values and convictions to work in our neighborhoods and communities.  This was a fun and valuable experience!

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My Kitchen Table: Great Food, Better Conversation

Kansas Kitchen Table Picture

By Jason

On November 20, 2017 I hosted the Kansas Kitchen Table discussion at my family’s house located in the rural area west of Topeka. A total of 10 people were in attendance, six adults, two college students (one being myself) and two kids. I will begin by giving a brief description of those attending the discussion. My father, Spencer, runs a cattle operation and a lawn and landscaping business. My mother Cindy works for a hospital in the accounting department. My brother, Justin is a sophomore at college. My Uncle Dan works as a physiologist/trauma therapist and my aunt is a stay at home mom caring for Jacob and Rylan (high school and grade school ages). The last two in attendance were my grandparents John and Judy, who are both retired. Both my grandparents and aunt and uncle, live in residential Kansas City so we only get to see them once or twice a year.

The day started with family showing up for lunch and everyone bringing in all sorts of tasty food. Since, the general concept of this project was everyone bringing a dish, I helped in the kitchen by making the mashed potatoes, not glamorous, but they turned out pretty well. During the time leading up to lunch I began listening to the different conversation that were being had. Along, with the usual talk about sports and school, I heard conversation about politics that I was hoping would be brought up again when I was facilitating the discussion during lunch.

Getting to the meat and potatoes of the discussion (pun intended) my family began the dinner with a prayer led by my dad, and then after food had been dished out I provided a general description of the purpose of the dinner and of the class. To begin our discussion, I asked the only required question for the dinner: “Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you?” This question had many answers which sparked further conversation about the topic. But, the central idea remained the same: “Patriotism”. My father was the one that said this word but all the other family members’ answers had similar meaning. They all talked about how everyone needs to pull their own weight and take pride in their community.

I then asked the question “do you know your neighbors?” this sparked a conversation that was extremely relevant. My aunt started off saying she didn’t know he neighbors and was perfectly fine with that even though the lived less than 100 feet away next door. She said that she has made attempts to be friendly but they just ignore her, keep in mind that this is a suburb in Kansas City. My grandparents, living in Kansas City also, had slightly improved response with them knowing one neighbor pretty well, but the others were just acquaintances. My mom and dad stated the exact opposite, that they know most all the neighbors is in the area very well even the closest house is a quarter mile away. This was when my uncle spoke for the first time. He said that there seems to be increase in a more individualistic society. Which this ties directly back into one of our readings at the beginning of the semester about individual vs community based societies. More and more people are beginning to become more secluded and just sticking to themselves rather than getting out and being involved in their communities and their neighborhoods. So with all of this conversation I decided to follow it with “what do you enjoy the most about where you live?” This is where my aunt spoke up again and said that even though she disliked the neighbors, the general community was very appealing, good schools, low crime, and friendly stores. My parents again spoke up about how our area really watched out for each other through a neighborhood watch program. All the neighbors have each other’s phone numbers so if there is something going on in the area everyone can stay informed. This made me wonder why it seemed that the rural area was so much more connected than the street full of neighbor’s right next to each other. Was this just a coincidence a have better people in the same area is it because of the more traditions rural upbringing? Either way it would take more studies to come to a conclusion.

The conversations had for this assignment all tie back into some of the key concepts we have learned about. As this conversation progressed there were different people that talked and expressed opinions more freely than others and there were certain times that there were multiple conversations going on at once. What surprised me was how well everyone was listening even the kids that really didn’t know much about the conversation still listened to what was being said. Overall, this discussion went very smoothly, since all of us at least knew each other I think that conversation was made more freely with these less than typical questions. If we would have been complete strangers the conversation might have been more forced and some people might have been more reserved with what they were saying. As a facilitator, jotting down some notes, I let the conversation be more natural, rather than being strict and asking every question on the list. Which allowed for what I believed to be better quality conversation. Overall, I enjoyed this more than I thought I would and I think my family got some good out of the conversation also. Even after lunch was over and other conversations were being had, I heard my aunt talking about how nice it would be to live in a more united and personable community.

 

Dinner with Donna and Ben

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We gathered for dinner at Donna’s home in Manhattan at six in the evening. Donna and Ben had prepared Kus-Kus with a side of fruit with Miranda bringing garlic bread while I provided the all-important wine. Ben is retired but in a former life taught communication studies at Kansas State. Donna still worked actively at the university and among communities across the state facilitating deliberation on topics she held near and dear to her heart. Miranda was a student, sitting quietly. Our conversation began with the meaning of citizenship. Though hard to define as an abstract concept there was a concrete belief that citizenship necessitated civic participation. Donna brought up Jury duty, while never directly stating so, expressed frustration with those who skip out on what she saw as the manifestation of a shared civic obligation. From there, Donna and Ben shared war stories about the different juries they had served on. The conversation turned to jury nullification, leading us to grapple with the difficulty of what participation required. Was it enough to show up or is there an unspoken direction that citizens must follow once there. Donna, Ben, Miranda and myself quickly came to understand that we mostly existed to the left of the political spectrum so our conversation naturally struck to those perspectives. This can be used as an interesting example of enclave deliberation, as we felt comfortable enough to express political beliefs without appealing to someone else’s sense of fairness. Still, even with similar perspectives the conversation never become an echo chamber of reinforcing inaccurate beliefs, but rather a lively place to share stories. An interesting part came on the Vietnam war. I was curious how Donna and Ben felt about the impact the Vietnam conflict had on them politically. My family immigrated to the US so older leftist perspectives on the conflict were things I only saw in history texts but Donna and Ben had lived it. They shared a deep belief that the war was the defining issue of their generation, still remember specifics of the conflict that I had never learned of. Education was another issue that we all felt strongly about. Apparently Ben paid 125 dollars as for his full tuition at kstate when he was a student, which is now less than ¼ of the cost for a single class. It was interesting to sit with them and hear their perspectives. I had learned from Donna about her interests in regards to housing and water. She told stories of when she sat on an advisory committee for the city reviewing potential “variant” housing providing a real life example of civic participation.

I think the meeting provided a real life example of the potentials and limitations of deliberation. On a positive not Donna and Ben were both pleasant people concerned with the wellbeing of their community. They had both made the active decision to be politically involved when able, and have done so over the course of their lives. In that sense, it was a unique experience to have an earnest cross generational dialogue. One that had given both sides of the generational divide more of an insight into how the other lives. Yet despite the positive quality of our conversation the dialogue wasn’t perfect. Speaking only for myself, there were times were racial differences in the room were acute. Specifically, a moment in the conversation came where the Flint water crisis was alluded to as the impetus for Donna and Ben’s community to relay piping. Although for them this was an innocuous connection since their action was directly linked to the water crisis, for me as a young black man comparing the two is just inappropriate. The Flint Water crisis is symbolic of a systemic neglect which could only happen to black communities, while Flint served only as reminder they could change their piping willy nilly. Even though our dialogues were on the whole fruitful, that does not mean they were perfect. These interactions show has dialogue cannot be a catch all solution since difference is fundamentally incapable of expression. Even if we can talk about a wide breath of issues with commonality the very fact real difference exist between our social lives mean that some gaps will always exist no matter what we talk about. That does not mean that I would through away the dinner conversation we had that night, but rather why dialogue is needed more. It is important for white Americans who are more racially progressive to talk within their communities so that when inter-racial dialogue occurs black people aren’t always forced into a teaching position even if perfect understanding is not possible.

French Cuisine and German Politics

For my Kitchen Table conversation, my partners Maja and Madeline and myself joined Daniel and Krista R. and their daughter, Sophie at their house in Manhattan, Kansas. It was just the six of us at dinner. Maja, Madeline, and I are college students who call Kansas home. Daniel is from Germany and is working on obtaining dual citizenship here in the United States. Krista is from the Bay Area in California. This is where Daniel and Krista would meet. When Krista was six months pregnant, they moved to Germany. This is where Sophie would be born and they lived there for a few years before moving back to the United States. Because of her mom being an American and her being born in Germany, Sophie is lucky to herself a dual citizen.

We began our conversation by asking what does it mean to each of us to be a citizen. Daniel and Krista had very interesting views due to their circumstances of living in countries that they are not citizens of. From our conversation, it was easy to tell that for all of us, being citizen went beyond just paying taxes and following the laws. In fact, for Daniel and Krista, voting didn’t make you a citizen. This was an interesting view as this was something that I had never considered.

However, perhaps what was possibly the biggest learning moment for me was listening to Sophie describe what citizenship meant to her. The topic of the Pledge of Allegiance came up and we were discussing what it meant to us. Daniel described that he thought it was a strange thing that Americans do that he doesn’t know of any other country who does something like it. Daniel stated that he doubts that he will ever recite the pledge even if he becomes a citizen because it just wouldn’t feel right. When we asked Sophie, the dual citizen, about her thoughts. We were absolutely blown away. Sophie described the pledge of allegiance as silly and didn’t see why people should do it. She says that she will stand for it, but she doesn’t recite it nor does she put her hand on her heart. When we asked her why that was, Sophie told us it was because she loves two countries equally, so why should she choose. I realized that I had never truly thought about what the Pledge of Allegiance meant. To me, it was just something we did every morning before school, however, I realized that this was something that I should think more deeply about. I starting thinking about how we often push our political ideas and beliefs on our children without thinking about how they feel about issues. I understand that children need to have some sort of “push” when it comes to things they may not understand. However, I feel that we often lack the ability to speak to our children about the deeper meanings of things, and therefore, lose the overall purpose of what we are trying to accomplish in society.

Overall, our dinner helped me understand what being a citizen meant to other people and myself. I realized that most people probably don’t consider voting to be a part of their duty as a citizen. During the dinner, we talked very little about voting. Instead, a large portion of our conversation revolved around being active in our communities and volunteering for activities that you are passionate about. The common theme that we kept going back to was find ways to make everything around us and other people’s lives better.

I feel this contradicted what we talked about in class a lot. I feel we often described one of our main jobs as citizens was going out and voicing our opinion by voting. This was always just something that I figured everyone would agree on. However, I was obviously wrong. It makes me wonder if that is part of the reason why our voter turnout is so low. I am beginning to wonder if more people feel as if their role as a citizen doesn’t include voting and that is why people are not inclined to go out to the pools. This could be an important concept for our political system to grasp in we care about raising the voting level. It would be valuable for us to figure out a way to convince people that their role as a citizen does include voting.FullSizeRender

Food For Thought

There is a novelty about having dinner around an actual kitchen table.  It is welcoming and familiar.  My partner Robert S. and myself had the joy of joining together with people who were simply kind strangers at the time.  On April 29th, we had the pleasure of joining a wonderful group of eight for dinner in Manhattan, Kansas. Heather & Bill L. were ever so kind in welcoming us into their home to engage with one another in a nostalgic setting.  We arrived at their house around 6:00 p.m. to shortly be followed by Heather & Bill’s close friends: Mark & Courtney F., Jerrod & Amy W., and William & Amy H. This lovely group of people are close through many different institutions.  They all have children who are in the same age group.  They all are members of the United Methodist Church, and they are associated with one of the various Manhattan soccer clubs.  While they shared similarities, they also shared differences.  They each had a job that was diverse from one another.  The job array consisted of a business owner, a chair member of an institution, an attorney, and a Kansas State University Professor.

            Upon arrival, we all introduced ourselves.  The group of friends engaged in small talk, and shared laughter.  Dinner began not too long after we arrived, and we took our places around the table.  Before starting our evening discussion, we took two separate group photos.  One featured Robert, and the other featured myself. Robert explained the confines of our project, and the group eagerly listened.  We were sure to ask the primary question of the evening, “Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you?” Though the participants were aware of the topic of the evening, silence was present following this in-depth question.  Through rephrasing the question, and applying it to something every participant could relate to, we were back on track.

            The primary recurring theme of the evening was that of citizenship in church.  This was a hot topic for the group due to some changes that are being implemented in the near future. There was healthy deliberation about what citizenship meant to each person in the room. The participants weighed between what citizenship meant, what citizenship did not mean, and how it differs from person-to-person.  To better understand the context of the discussion, one member sought to find the definition and origin of the term “citizenship.” After many different applications of citizenship in individual circumstances, one participant asked a question that still resonates with me today.  She asked, “When you are laid to rest, what will your gravestone say? A verse from the Bible?  ‘Outstanding serviceman?’ ‘Great cook?’”  She asked “in that moment, who are you? Who do you want to be known as?”  I believe that this is a great way of thinking about citizenship.  It really makes me ponder what would be said about me after my journey in this lifetime.

            From this experience, I have learned that there are no two people who share the exact same definition of citizenship.  Every person has their own life experience, and it helps define who they are as citizenship.  It also helps define what their expectations of other citizens are.  The other big questions of the night were “what constitutes citizenship?  Is it paying taxes?  Is it obeying the laws?”  The participants really made me think in ways that I have never thought before.  The discussion made me really rethink what I believe citizenship means.  Throughout the conversation, we all would agree here and there.  However, there was never a definitive answer for the question posed at the beginning of the night.  While this one conversation could not completely answer this inquiry, it did open a new realm of thought provoking questions.

            Our Kansas Kitchen Table could not have gone better.  This was exactly how I had imagined my experience.  It was lovely to work with such intuitive people with so much life experience.  Though the participants are friends and share many qualities, they still had differences that kept the conversation moving forward.  There was not a time that the conversation was heated.  The confines of our discussion were lighthearted with a dose of healthy tension.  This activity has inspired me to engaged in this format of a conversation with my friends and family.  Due to the diversity amongst the world’s population, I believe that this is an important conversation to have.  There will never be one solid answer to the question. However, there will be growth between the people who confront it.

What is Citizenship?

By Robert Sharp

My group partner Kaysi Wilson, and I, held our Kansas Kitchen Table in Manhattan, KS, at the Home of Bill and Heather L. The dinner was attended by church friends of the L’s, who included Mark & Courtney F., Jerrod & Amy W. and William & Amy H.. The attendees were all adults, who were parents of high school – college aged kids. Their occupations ranged from Kansas State University professors, small business owners, and a practicing attorney. They were not strangers to each other, because of their connection through their church affiliations. All were members of the United Methodist faith, and almost seemed like life long friends.

We began the dinner off by introducing ourselves, and by giving a brief description of what we wanted to accomplish. We then took two group photos; one that included Kaysi, and one that include myself. We then introduced the required question in the handout; “Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you?” The conversation began slow, mainly because everyone was still grasping what we wanted from the conversation. However, after a few minutes of “stoking the fire,” the conversation became very active, and it stayed that way for several hours.

A main theme that was continuous throughout the conversation was the idea of what the definition of citizenship was. Before we actually googled the definition, we all gave our opinion on what it meant to be a “citizen.” Opinions ranged from being a part of a church, a community, and a family. A majority of the discussion regarded the allowing of gay and lesbian members of the United Methodist Church to become pastors. These topics lead to a discussion regarding the group or board of individuals who are in charge of voting on this issue. We came to find out, that one of these national voting board members was at the dinner. The dissection became whether or not being a citizen of church, allowed members to leave the church, when they feel like the church stopped listening to them. In addition, if those who hand a governing say in the church refused to listen to congregates, then could those who are “low level” members of the church effect their votes, or force them to listen?

Shortly after, we transition to a different part of the question at hand, mainly whether or not paying taxes or following the laws made you a better citizen, and whether or not it should give you a greater say in governing. An opinion that was raised the idea that social contract creates a citizenship for all. Not necessarily for just a nation, but with regards to citizenship in the human race. We as human beings have already agreed to follow the laws of society, in order to be considered a part of society. This lead to the opinion that we do not need to consider paying taxes as a threshold to citizenship. However, this also lead to the argument that not everyone pays the same taxes. Some people pay more, while others pay less, and some pay no taxes at all. This lead to the question of if you pay no taxes at all, should you be allowed to vote, or should you be exempt from following society’s shared laws?

Throughout the three-hour dinner, no definite conclusion was made, in fact we walked away from the conversation with more questions than answers. What stood out most to me was how each person defined what citizenship was to them. Citizenship varied, because citizenship means more than one single thing. We can be citizens of the human race, and not be citizens of a single country. We can be citizens of a church, an yet not be citizens of a family. Although there was no definite answer to the question, we all walked away with an experience that non at the dinner had before, that being a civil discourse over a dinner table could be, and is beneficial.

 

Guten Appetit, Let’s Eat!

By Madeline

I had the honor in participating in a potluck dinner with the Krista, Daniel and their daughter Sophie, our hosts, and Maja, Alex and myself, the guests. When we got there, I noticed Daniel’s accent immediately and then was told we were eating a French Apricot Stew so I assumed he was French, but I was wrong. Daniel is of German decent and met Krista while they were both living in the Bay Area of California. After getting married and deciding to start a family Daniel and Krista decided to move back to Daniel’s home country, Germany, while Krista was six months pregnant. The international make up of this family really led our conversation. Once we sat down to eat we jumped right into what it means to be a citizen, the one required question we had to ask was “Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you?” Daniel, a K-State Physics professor, had an immediate reaction because he is not an American citizen so voting isn’t an option for him in this country and he doesn’t see paying taxes and following the laws as a way of being a citizen because he does those things and he isn’t a citizen. Daniel said he feels that being a citizen is to be an engaged community member. We teased out what does it mean to be an engaged community member and concluded that it’s just being involved with your neighbors which can be in many different forms from serving on the PTA, coaching a youth sports team, talking to your neighbors etc. I grew up in Lenexa, KS, a Kansas City suburb and said that a way I have seen many people from Lenexa act as a citizen outside of voting and paying taxes is by attending school board meetings, Alex, from McPherson, KS, and Maja, from Laken, KS, agreed that this is a way they’ve seen citizenship in action. Krista, Daniel lived in Germany together for about six years before returning to the United States when Daniel got a job at K-State. We asked them about what citizen engagement looks like in Germany and it’s very different because of their government, they don’t have school boards to talk to if they have a problem with their schools, they just vote. This led us to learn about the government in Germany, which I knew very little about.

Germany has a Federal Republic and after learning about it from Daniel and Krista, it sounds like a pretty good idea. A Federal Republic allows for people to directly vote for a party and the percentage of votes the party gets that will be the percent of seats that party gets in the parliament. What sounded good about this to me is the representation of everyone. Krista told us about a party that was made up of mostly younger people that felt like their issues weren’t getting address so they created a party that focused on issues that are facing younger people, like internet, and got enough votes to secure a couple seats. This underrepresented group is not represented. Daniel said that people in Germany really feel like their votes matter, which is how they get voter turnouts to be around 80% for every election. Krista and Daniel joke about how Krista represents the families votes in the elections in the United States because she is a U.S. citizen, according to passports and papers, and Daniel represents the family in Germany because he is a German citizen, according to passports and papers. Krista can live and work in Germany but is not a German citizen and Daniel plans to become a dual citizen with Germany and the United States but has not yet done it. We asked about Sophie and her citizenship (at this point in of the meal Sophie was still at dance class). Since Sophie has one parent that’s an American citizen and one parent that’s a German citizen she was born a citizen of both countries. Talking about Sophie’s citizenship led to, what I felt, the most interesting part of our conversation all night. Before Sophie got home we talked about the pledge of allegiance and how the United States is one of few, if not the only country, that says the pledge of allegiance every day at school. Krista said that she tells Sophie’s teacher every year about Sophie’s dual citizenships and asks that they do not make her say the pledge of allegiance. When Sophie got home she said she doesn’t say the pledge of allegiance because she “likes two countries.” Though this sounds simple to say, for a second grader to understand dual citizenship and what the pledge really means was impressive. It also made me realize again, how weird saying the pledge make me feel even though I’m only have one citizenship and in Sophie’s words, “[ doesn’t even make sense.”

This discussion with Krista, Daniel, Sophie, Alex and Maja really made me think critically about what it means to be a citizen of a country. We talked about American citizenship, German citizenships, Kansas citizenship, California citizenship and how being a citizen in one place doesn’t look the same as it does somewhere else and I think that’s what’s so difficult about it, being a citizen isn’t a cut and dry thing. I really loved having this dinner and hope to stay connected with Krista in the future because of our similarities with teaching and AmeriCorps programs and because her and her family were just pretty cool to talk to and meet over an apricot stew.

Kitchen

Sophie the Intellect

KitchenBy Maja

On Tuesday April 25th, Alex, Madeline, and I went to Daniel, Krista, and Sophie’s home in Manhattan, Kansas to discuss community, politics, and to eat a good home cooked meal!

I am a twenty-one year old, junior at K-State majoring in Marketing. I am from a small town in Southwest Kansas. Alex is a twenty-two year old that goes to K-State; he is majoring in Communication Studies and plans to attend law school after he graduates. He is from McPherson. Madeline is twenty-one years old and is a Communication Studies major as well. She is from Lenexa. She will graduate in a couple of weeks and will then be moving to Louisiana to work for Teach for America. Krista is a part-time teacher/part-time graduate student. She is in her mid-late thirties. Throughout her life she has held multiple jobs, she was a travel agent, an English teacher when she lived in Germany, and a German teacher when she lived/lives in the United States. She is getting her masters in Literature and has lived in the Bay area, Germany, Kansas, and some other places in the United States throughout her life. Daniel, Krista’s husband, is a Physics professor at K-State; he is in his early-mid thirties. He is originally from Germany, but has moved between the United States and Germany multiple times. Lastly, we have Sophie, Daniel and Krista’s daughter. She is eight years old. She was born in Germany and lived there until she was six and then moved to Manhattan with her family and has lived here for the past two years.

After we sat down for dinner, which was mashed potatoes and stew made by Krista, pinwheels made by me, ranch dip made by Madeline, and cheesecake made by Alex, we got right into discussion. We quickly found out that Daniel is a citizen of Germany, Krista is a citizen of the United States, and Sophie is a citizen of both the United States and Germany. So depending on what country they are living in at the time depends on whether Krista gets to vote or Daniel gets to vote; which then let us to the topic of what it means to be a citizen. I think we all had similar meanings of what this meant to us. We could agree that it meant being involved in your community whether it be in the PTA or volunteering at a club. Daniel had also made a comment about just being able to have a passport, or just even having a form of identification that you are from that country would make you a citizen.

Sophie is very intelligent for an eight year old. One thing she shared with us was that she does not say the Pledge of Allegiance. She does not do this because she feels like she has ties to more than one country. I had never thought of saying the Pledge of Allegiance as a choice. It has always been a thing you just do because you need to do it. However, everything she was saying was making sense, she just did not think it was fair for her to have to do that to just one country. Another thing I learned about the Pledge of Allegiance is we are one of the only countries that has a Pledge. When Daniel came to the United States he was confused as to why we would pledge to a piece of cloth. I never really thought about how weird it was if you were on the outside looking in.

Another interesting topic that we got on was if we considered ourselves citizens of the world. I think since I am in college and have not necessarily gotten the chance to travel as much yet and learn a ton about other cultures that I am not yet a citizen of the world, but that I would like to be. I would consider myself more of a citizen of the United States. Daniel, being from Germany and his mother being a teacher that got to travel a lot, had a little bit of a different experience growing up. He has been all over Europe and he never thought the borders between countries should stop you from being a part of that country. I then thought about how it is so weird that I know no other languages, but when I go visit my grandparents in Sweden that most Swedish people know not only Swedish and English, but also French. When we were on the topic of what does being a citizen meant to us I just automatically assumed in the United States, not the world.

During dinner it was very enlightening to learn more about how the German government works. Daniel and Krista informed us about how the parliament in Germany was much more representative of many different groups of people than how the United States works with mostly Democrats or mostly Republicans depending on who is president at the time. From the way they were describing it, it seems like the German government is very efficient and makes more citizens happy than not.

One big take away I had from this experience was that I got reminded that questioning things is good and that you can learn from someone new every day, even if it’s an eight year old girl. My other big take away was that how you see the world has so much to do with where you come from. I just read the book American Nations, A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America, and in that book Colin Woodard discusses these eleven different areas of the United States and how different their histories are, and how that has got them to be different today. That was really brought to life during this dinner discussion. I thoroughly enjoyed this dinner and the family I was able to meet during it.

Potluck in the 41st Millennium

By George

For this “Kansas Kitchen Table Project” that I was required to do for this class, I actually decided to kill two birds with one stone. Every Sunday, a group of my friends and I meet up at my apartment and play Deathwatch, a tabletop role-playing game that takes place in the Warhammer 40,000 universe. So, on Sunday, April 23, 2017, we decided to extend our meeting time a few hours to hold this little potluck.

The potluck occurred right here in Manhattan, Kansas. Attending it were four people, five if you include me. Those who attended were Naomi, Dylan, Justice, and Patrick. Naomi is an English literature major here at Kansas State University who comes from Seneca, Kansas, and is one of the friendliest people you will ever meet. Dylan is freshman in mechanical engineering here at Kansas State who said he would prefer to keep information about himself confidential. Justice is a park management and conservation major here at Kansas Stat, and my roommate, introduced to me through a mutual friend. Patrick is a biomedical engineering major here, as well as a friend of mine from high school. Yep, both of us are from St. Louis, Missouri. He also has a condition known as Diamond Blackman Anemia, in which his body in unable to produce red blood cells. He is however on the road to curing his condition due to him finding a bone marrow donor, because a bone marrow transplant is the cure for the condition. Everyone arrived at my apartment around noon like we always do for our Deathwatch sessions. After we finished our session at around 4:30 in the afternoon, we decided to have our dinner early and proceeded to serve ourselves up with the food we brought and that I cooked.

As we ate and even after we had finished with our dinner, we discussed the topics I brought forward from the project’s directions. As was required, I started with the question: Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to them. For Naomi, it was an answer that I expected at least one person in our group to say. She said that for her, being a citizen meant being involved with your community. Coming from a small town like Seneca, which as of 2013 is home to just over two thousand people, Naomi grew up knowing most of the population of her home town, thus she felt a strong sense of kinship with her fellow Seneca inhabitants. Her mindset is that in order to be a citizen of a community in her eyes, you should at least put forth the effort to be active in your community in some way or another. For Dylan, his view was pretty similar. Dylan hails from Olathe, Kansas, which is by no means a small town, so he does not have the same feeling of community as Naomi does. He believes that one, while not obligated, should be active with their respective community at least a little bit. He did say however that he does not think one should be constantly involved with their community that they start to be viewed as the sort of community busy-body. He has a motto that goes “everything in moderation”. Justice’s view, while similar, was also quite different. Justice identifies himself as an anarcho-libertarian. He holds very libertarian views such as borderline isolationism in terms of the United States’ role in the world, but is not a big fan of government in general. As opposed to the typical libertarian who just wants the government to interfere less in the peoples’ affairs, he actually is of the opinion that democracy might be overrated and out dated, which was a surprise to me. He does however believe that in order to call oneself a true citizen, they should have some level of investment and engagement with their own community, regardless of what that community is. Being a fan of medieval history and warfare, he actually compared how things are done today to how they were run back in medieval Europe. Unfortunately, the conversation got a little heated when he was speaking his mind about this. Patrick’s was the same as well in the sense that he believes that at least a nominal level of engagement in one’s own community fits into his personal definition of citizenship. Like Dylan and myself, he did not grow up in a small town like Naomi, so he does not hold the same sort of mindset as hers.

This whole part of our conversation reminded me very heavily of a topic we went over in class on February 1st. In that class session, we covered the issue of how most citizens in today’s society are not as involved as they used to be. While I know that we certainly do not speak for everyone, the fact that all of us there, some of whom from drastically different backgrounds and hold vastly different opinions of government with each other, all agreed on the same base principle got me thinking. Maybe a large percentage of the population probably feels the same way. But if this is the case, then why are they not as invested as they used to be? Well, as we addressed in that class session, it is perhaps that the citizens of our nation feel as if their voice does not make any difference in how things are run in this country, so they do what they feel is saving themselves the time and wasted effort.

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Come and Knock On Our Door

FullSizeRenderBy Sarina

On a cloudy and damp evening in Manhattan Kansas, three hungry college students gathered at the door of Jenny’s home. I was one such college student that was thankful for a free meal and the fact that I didn’t have to clean my house for company. I had brought my neighbor and fellow college student, Samantha whom I had invited just days before when we passed each other in the parking lot of our apartment building. We had always wanted to hang out more to get to know each other better and with her being my neighbor she fit the guest requirements for this project perfectly (a fact that was mentioned to her and received a good laugh). Then there was my project partner, Elliot. Who, upon being introduced to Samantha, realized that they vaguely knew each other and enjoyed a lovely exchange that made us all laugh and eased our nervousness about being in a very grown up household with very grown up adults.

While the three of us marveled at the matching furniture, decorated walls, and a real kitchen table, we were introduced to the guests that Jenny, our host, had invited. Missy, Kyle, and Dustin were all folks that had agreed to come from Jenny’s church group. Missy worked with Jenny for the church and Kyle and Dustin both worked for the University. Jenny is also a friend of a previous communications teacher, which is how she got volunteered to host for this project We were also made aware of a gaggle of kids that were playing down in the basement all ranging in ages from five to thirteen. It was in this moment that I asked Jenny if I could invite one more person, my boyfriend Allen and his ten-year-old son who I knew would appreciate the playdate. Jenny took this opportunity to tell me how much she loved children. She was basically the neighborhood babysitter, so of course the little guy was welcome.

Between them showing up there was also wine offered, dogs to snuggle with, and laughter to be had by all. I sit back now and smile, remembering how there wasn’t ever a moment where I felt out of place even though I come from a different background. As people milled about with drinks in their hands and smiles on their faces, I realized this wasn’t just a dinner. This was a dinner party and we were all guests of honor for the evening.

Dinner included bratwurst from the grill, a vegan side dish provided by Elliot and for dessert no-bake cookies brought by me, because I shouldn’t be trusted alone with a stove. We all sat down around the honest-to-god real kitchen table and it was Jenny who decided she wanted to get the ball rolling on our democratic discussion. She wanted us to have ample time to get as much as we could for a good discussion. My plan had always been to just ask the required question of “what does citizenship mean to you” and allow the conversation to flow from there. Elliot had a few additional questions marked on her project sheet, so she took point in leading the discussion.

As we went through the first question, a central theme began that would continue to run through our discussions. That was the idea that it is important to be involved in some group, somewhere. For Allen, that meant always being willing to help someone out if he could. For Jenny, it meant having a village of people around that would be there for her children. Citizenry to our group did primarily focus on local communities. However, Dustin, Kyle and I brought up the idea of global citizenry. How the technology if the world is binding us together more now than before. Creating new ties and tensions that we need to navigate through if we are going to remain good citizens.

Another topic that got brought up that I latched onto the discussion of. That question was the one asking what kind of person/citizen do you want to be. The group that came from the same church said that it was important to them to be good people within their faith. They aware their faith has a stigma of hate around it, so together they are working hard to be good people who want to love everyone in their community. They gave an example of how they made it a point to host a luncheon for the local Islamic community when the immigration ban was first occurring. They wanted the local community of Islam to see that there are people within other faiths who are working to be good citizens to all. Samantha answered the question by stating that she wanted to be a person who came back to the Manhattan community to make a difference in people like herself. Instead of abandoning the community, because of its lack of diverseness, she’s going to get her degree and return to here and make a change for the remaining and upcoming people that are experiencing similar circumstances that she is currently going through.

I loved all these answers and when it came to my turn to speak I could share how I am currently reading a book that I feel speaks to the idea of what it means to be a citizen The Chinaman’s Chance. I explained that it echoed a lot of the answers that many had given at the kitchen table, and that was that being a citizen means to be useful. You don’t have to be the best at something, but you do need to contribute to the world as best that you can. The book explains that a person should never be useless. I concluded with that being a good citizen to me meant I’d like to leave this world a little bit better then when I found it.