The 11th-grade English honors students of Deborah Lambert's class at Eastern Technical High School in Baltimore County tackled a question posed in this column recently: Are we there yet? By "there," I meant the colorblind nation of our dreams - or, at least, a nation less prejudiced, more accepting and ready to make an African-American man its next president. Lambert used the Sept. 16 column as a "teachable moment," which, next to making someone's refrigerator door, is about the highest flattery this column has ever enjoyed.
"My students had completed reading Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass and had investigated its related themes when I read your column," Lambert explained. "The next day I circulated your column and charged the students with answering your question, 'Are we there yet?' "
Some of Lambert's students said yes. Some said no. Some betrayed a pessimism I would expect from baby boomers. While they do not have the benefit of years to appreciate the progress that Barack Obama personifies in a way their parents might, the students certainly seemed to know what it will take for a generational breakthrough. Here are excerpts from letters they wrote to me:
Alexander Gibson: "Maybe one day we will get to that point, but I do not believe it will happen anytime soon. I think it is human nature and it will be a problem as long as there is life on this earth."
Amanda Fuller: "I agree that this is the dawn of a new era, and having an African-American president will be a step in the direction toward the colorblind nation because it will make people ... treat African-Americans with respect and admiration."
Bianca Genius: "Many of my friends want Barack Obama to win the election because he is black. That's good and all, but most of them don't know anything about what he's going to do for the United States. He could be a horrible president. ... The point is, people look at color more than anything else in today's society."
Caitlin Engel: "I do believe change is coming ... and that my generation is the start of a colorblind country because of the diverse schooling system and communities."
Chris Gordon: "A lot of kids and young adults my age are not prejudiced. Personally, when I am friends with someone, I judge them by their personality and character."
Danielle Wheeler: "If there is one event that can change the nation as a whole, it would be Obama's [election]."
Jessica Livingston: "Most teenagers learn behaviors, racism and prejudice, from their parents. Those behaviors will be passed down to our generation and continue on to generations to come."
Joey Protzman: "Many kids in my generation are racist and prejudiced. Every day I see at least one person saying something horrible about another and every day the same old thing happens - everyone acts as if it did not happen."
Lauren Williams: "My generation doesn't care about race, color, sex, religion, or orientation because we are focusing a lot of our time helping the earth."
Sabrina Stone: "We as Americans outlawed unequal treatment a long time ago. However, it is in this day and age where it's finally coming to an end. ... [We are] carrying out this plan of a better, more united nation! All people have the option of being successful and carrying out any dream imaginable!"
Stacey Linz: "People need to be more accepting. We have to live in the same world, so we should work on being that first colorblind generation and get along."
Nelly Waribe: "If you look at society now, and how it was years ago, treatment of other racial groups has become better, and prejudice is becoming less of an issue. Years ago, especially during the civil rights movement, a black person would never have been a presidential candidate."
Chelsea Mealey: "I accept prejudice as a challenge of our time and believe it is up to us. This world is in our hands; freedom is in our hands."
Read more letters from the students today on the Random Rodricks blog. Dan Rodricks can be heard on "Midday" from noon to 2 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays on 88.1 WYPR-FM.