In an age in which face-to-face communication comes at a premium, students at Mitchell High School are valuing a chance to learn about the past first-hand.
Sophomore students in the MHS Honors English II class have completed several interviews with local residents born in the 1950s for their Front Porch Interview project. The students presented their projects on Monday at the school's library, sharing some of their impressions and life lessons learned from speaking mainly with people from the Baby Boomer generation and people born before 1945, called Traditionalists.
In preparation for their upcoming research paper and class reading of Ray Bradbury's science fiction novel Fahrenheit 451, the students' goal was to better understand the advancements of technology in the past 70 years and in particular, its effects on humanity and society.
MHS English teachers Carli Flemmer and her colleague April Johnson have been reading the story with their sophomores for several years and often their students had asked: "This stuff is happening; how did he know?"
The novel Fahrenheit 451, written in 1953, presents a future American society where books are outlawed. The main character of the novel is a fireman named Guy Montag who becomes disillusioned with his job of censoring books and destroying knowledge. Eventually, he quits his job and joins the resistance group who memorize and share the world's greatest literary and cultural works.
The English teachers agreed it would be helpful for the teenagers to interact with people from that generation to better understand how it was to live and work in that era.
"We started the interviews last year and thought, how powerful it would be, if the kids spoke face-to-face with someone who witnessed that generation," Flemmer said. "It also goes right along with the theme of Fahrenheit 451, because it warns us what will happen to society when we stop caring for one another. It's amazing that the author Bradbury could think that far ahead, when people were just starting to get excited about a new TV or radio."
Ada Miller, 91, from Mitchell, was one of the residents who volunteered her time to teach and talk to the students about her school years and her time growing up.
"I learned how nice the young people are today," Miller said. "We usually hear nothing but the negative stuff about them. Then you get to know them and it's wonderful. I just hope they keep it up, because they do a nice job. They really made me feel like I am part of their generation, too."
Most students agreed that it was a retreat to put their smartphones down and keep a conversation going for longer than a few minutes.
"It helped us with talking to adults. Nobody communicates verbally much anymore. Everybody just chats online," student Madeline Hegg said. "When we met Ada Miller, she was a complete stranger. Now we consider her a real friend and what we learned will be helpful to us in the future, when it comes to job interviews, for example."
The common realization for this group of students was that being a teenager today has many pros, like access to education, more ethnic variety and access to information at their fingertips.
"We are really lucky to have the things that we now have in school," sophomore Madison Meyerink said. "We take it for granted, when a lot of people did not have the same opportunities we do. Some teenagers in the 1950s had to do much harder chores and work on the family farm, while we sometimes complain about the little things like doing the dishes."