In some circles, talk is cheap. But in the next few years, it may become our country's most valuable asset. Not just any kind of talk, but genuine civic discourse: the talk of engaged citizens who care about the country and the community they live in, people who don't always understand their fellow Americans, but would like to. People like me, and like you.
We hope you'll find this guide useful in planning conversations about TALK TO ME: Americans in Conversation with your community group or school class. For a more focused conversation, we strongly recommend a 4-part approach based on the themes outlined below -- either in one longer conversation, or two or more shorter ones.
Screen or refer to the opening 6 minutes of the program, where different people talk about their personal backgrounds. Segment ends at approximately 6:10 with John Kuo Wei Tchen saying,
Where am I from? That's the question I've asked myself all my life.
Ask participants to go around the room and briefly describe where they and their families are from. Include regions of the U.S. as well as other countries.
How did your family get here (not just America, but your town or area)? How long ago? How many different countries of origin are represented in your conversation group? How many regions of America?
Think about the labels you use for yourself or that others use to describe you. Who or what do these labels connect you to? Who or what might they separate you from? What does this suggest about your connection to America?
Other Approaches: Start the conversation by sharing photographs, objects, family stories or sayings that reflect something important about who each participant is and where he or she comes from. Or you can use maps of the U.S. and the world to explore the ancestry of group members, and how many different regions are represented by the conversation group.
Screen or refer to the brief segment that begins at approximately 16:55 -- with the shot of outer space -- where Rosemary Bray uses a Star Trek episode to talk about the Constitution.
Segment ends at approximately 18:53, with the close-up of the tear-stained woman (from the 1950 Robert Taylor film, The Devil's Doorway).
Suggested discussion questions:
In this segment, Rosemary Bray uses an episode of Star Trek to talk about the Constitution. She ends by saying,
What a wonderful place we would be living in if we meant everything we say.
What do you think about this comment? What do you think she means?
Rosemary starts off by saying that she thinks one of the hidden values of Star Trek is that it makes us look at ourselves as a nation. If that's true, what do you think it tells us about ourselves? What about some of the other TV shows and movies in the program -- The Wizard of Oz, Route 66, The Goldbergs, and Poltergeist ? What kinds of things do they tell us about ourselves?
What kind of place is the "ideal" America? How is it like your America? How is it different?
What does "the American Dream" mean to you? A better way of living? Freedom of expression? Or something else? Do you think it means the same thing today as it did for your parents' generation?
Other Approaches: Make a list of the most important values you believe you share with other Americans, then take turns sharing them with the conversation group. How many participants listed the same values? Is there general agreement in the group? Are any values in dispute?
Screen or refer to the short sequence on communities in the old West, which begins at approximately 25:57 with the shot of a train going by, and historian John Mack Faragher saying,
Americans have actually had some trouble...
Segment ends at approximately 26:43, just before the present-day quilting scene.
Suggested discussion questions:
TALK TO ME looks at many different communities -- some past, some present, some based on living together and others on common interests. What is a community? Does it just mean living in the same area? What are some of the reasons that communities get started?
What groups do you belong to? Which ones by birth? Which ones by choice? Where and when do you feel connected -- part of a community? When, if ever, do you feel that you don't fit in? Have you ever been in "the minority"?
What are the different groups in your town or area? How do they relate to each other?
Are there any tensions? If so, where do they focus? On the schools? Economic issues? Or something else?
Membership in groups are important to our sense of who we are. But are we missing something if we don't also look at the general welfare -- the good of American society as a whole? If we are, what is it that we're missing?
Other Approaches: Encourage group members to talk about the places in your area that have special meaning for the communities that they feel part of. Ask them to describe how and why these places are special. If your conversation group designed a tour of your area, what places would be included?
Screen or refer to the segment that starts with The Wizard of Oz ("we're not in Kansas any more") at approximately 51:20, which includes a discussion about America as a land without ghosts, and what "a more perfect union" means.
Segment ends approximately 54:00 with the words "...toward this possibility of perfection."
Suggested discussion questions:
In John Kuo Wei Tchen's story, a visiting Chinese professor called America "a land without ghosts." What do you think that means? Do you agree? Why, or why not? What roles do history and the past play in American life?
What do you think "a more perfect union" -- a better nation, a better society -- would be like? What kinds of changes would help us to get there?
What are some of the things you've heard and learned while watching the program and talking about it? Things that could influence attitudes and actions in the future? How can the group use this knowledge to make a difference?
What events in our local history have had an impact on how people work together or don't work together? What kinds of changes in our town or neighborhood would make a difference for the better?
Other Approaches: Decide if you or your group would like to continue exploring these topics -- through further discussion, or through activities in your community.
Has your conversation uncovered a specific need that you or your group could help to fill?
Would it be useful to share the knowledge that you've gathered about your community?
What would be the best way to do this? Organize a walking tour, an after-school tutoring program, or some other project?