Thursday, November 25, 2010

Rethinking Iowa

I'm running on the treadmill trying to make sense out of a "straw poll," in Iowa.  A group of mostly eastern elitists don their custom cowboy wear and pretend to understand rural America.  It seems embarrassing, both for the caricature of rural America and for the urban America that I consider to be home.  The media plays along with the game, presenting Iowans as ignorant bumpkins unable to make up their minds about political issues.

It's as if CNN and Fox News and MSNBC are collectively warning America, "these are the folks who will decide our political future, America."

Meanwhile, friends on Facebook are sucked into a pretend agribusiness.  It's essentially Sim City meets Future Farmers of America.  Call it Sim Iowa.  I read status updates from my urban, trendy hipster friends who are starting gardens and asking somewhat naive questions regarding soil and light and the basics that we pretty much forget when we wrap our veggies in plastic and keep our animal flesh in styrofoam and cellophane.

I check out my blog feeds and see some forward-thinking posts by Russ Goerend and I learn about Van Meter and other 1:1 schools and I realize that Iowa has some of the most forward-thinking, tech-integrated schools in our nation.

Since when did Iowa become so trendy?

I try and unravel the mystery.  Iowa.  It's so vanilla.  It's like a blank canvas.  Name a city in Iowa.  Seriously, it's nearly impossible for most Americans.  And yet . . . it's the vanilla ice cream that becomes a fresh look at the sundae.  It's the canvas that becomes a work of art. To be in Iowa is to be in a state of constant innovation, but always in subtle, understated ways.  It is the anti-California (not so much politically as symbolically) and maybe that's exactly what our nation needs.

Boring?  Perhaps, initially it is.  Yet, the sense of normalcy within the state is the beginning of innovation.  Iowa, as a state, reminds America that our roots and our future are all connected.  Iowa, as an extended metaphor becomes symbolic of what we all long for: to move forward in a positive direction and yet to also recover some sense of geography lost in the midst of modernism.

If Iowa represents anything, my hope is it represents a sense of centering.  It's the notion that change for change sake is empty, but change for the sake of meaning is absolutely necessary.  It's the idea that often the greatest innovation does not come from people who say, "let's try to be innovative," but instead from people who say, "let's do something worthwhile."

I may never understand the love of corn or hot dishes or straw polls or FFA.  And that's totally fine with me.  But if I want to see some amazing things happening, I might very well need to visit Iowa sometime soon.


  1. Bring the family for a visit. Our doors, spare bedrooms, kitchens, back yards, and classrooms are open any time.

    (You know I'm serious, so just do it. We'll pick you guys up at the airport.)

  2. I am also in Iowa...I think we all have the same bright hopes for education. It just seems we try different ways to get there.

    Your posts always make me think, and I am grateful for that. I can relate to many of the things you write about.

    Come for a visit!!