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West Jordan Journal

West Jordan hosts ‘What Every American Should Know’

Feb 27, 2017 12:28PM ● By Bryan Scott

Director of Library Services Jim Cooper introduces the night’s moderator, Ken Verdoia. (Marina McTee/City Journals)

By Marina McTee | [email protected]
On Jan. 30, the West Jordan Library hosted an event titled “What Every American Should Know.” The event is a community discussion that is meant to create a safe and civil place for political dialogue.
“I think we have a lot to learn from each other,” said Associate Director of Library Services Kent Dean. “We hope the great dialogue will foster a sense of community.”
The event began with participants sitting at a table with complete strangers. There was a wide range of people in attendance—from veterinarians to bankers to philosophers. 
Everyone introduced themselves and said why they were there. A few reasons ranged from being concerned for the direction of the country to simply stumbling across the event that evening.
Next, Director of Library Services Jim Cooper  introduced the moderator for the night’s discussion, journalist Ken Verdoia. The first half hour of the night was just between each table individually. Verdoia directed the conversation by throwing out questions every few minutes.
The starting question was, “Do you believe that the mainstream American identity adequately represents you? Why or why not?” 
This question had mixed reactions. Many people said yes, and many people said no. A common thread, however, was the question, “What is the American identity?”
Further questions were, “How do you feel the fragmentation and polarization in American culture and politics in everyday life?” “What does it mean to you to be civically and culturally literate?” and many others.
The final question was the origin of the night’s discussion, “What are some things that you think every American should know in order to be civically and culturally literate?” Verdoia had everyone write down their top 10 things they think every American should know.
These things could be anything and included everything from immigration policy, to civil rights, to how to be kind to others. Those ideas were then openly shared to the entire room.
The purpose of the night was to, “help [people] to become more civically and culturally literate,” said Verdoia.
The “What Every American Should Know” series is organized by the Aspen Institute. According the Aspen Institute website, it are a “nonpartisan forum for values-based leadership and the exchange of ideas.”
The Salt Lake County Library System is one out of only seven locations across the nation to be hosting this event series. The series is a response E.D. Hirsch’s book “Cultural Literacy.
The book was published in 1987 and consisted of 5,000 facts and references that Hirsch believed every American should know. His work was widely criticized for its racial bias and sparked a national debate.
The event series by the Aspen Institute aims see what that list would be like in the 21st century.
According to the Aspen Institute website, “The library series aims to bring this national conversation to a local level in order spark creative conversation about local and national identity, to expand and diversify the concept of what it means to be a member of the community and to be an American, and to collect these ideas in an aggregated list of What Every American Should Know.”
This discussion was the first in a series of events that will continue the conversation. The next sessions were “The Contributions of Immigrants to America” on Feb. 22 in the West Valley Library, “Theatre for Social Change” on Feb. 27 at the Kearns library, and the final session will be “Fake News v. Real News” on March 3 at the Bingham Creek Library in West Jordan.
This event series is an opportunity for the community to discuss politics in a safe and civil environment. Kent Dean said, “It is a great opportunity to talk about what it means to be American and to discuss how people feel about their country. We all come from so many different backgrounds and ethnicities. It creates a beautiful tapestry.”