This course is a discussion and an introduction to the abiding national question and aims at a personal inquiry: namely, “What have I thought over time about ‘What is an American?’”  It asks each of us to explore our own experiences in addressing this continuing inquiry. 

The question, of course, is enormous.  How can such a huge and diverse country find common language to respond? Writers, statesmen, immigrants, citizens, authors over all our history have puzzled with possible answers. We each have our narrow experiences, stories, and broad concepts.  What is an American?  Do we in fact have distinctive qualities?  What versions have we told ourselves, if ever?  Whatever we say or critique, what are the reasons hardly any Americans would ever consider leaving (again, quoting Rubenstein’s book and a 2020 Harris Poll).  

 The course does not seek to develop any collective answer; rather, the intention is to cause reflection on a difficult question using our personal experiences.  We want us each to feel the difficulties and complexities in dealing with the Question’s issues… and to try some responses.  

In our first session, we start with a chapter entitled “What is an American?” from Hector de Crevecouer’s 1782 book, Letters from an American Farmer.  George Washington and Benjamin Franklin admired greatly the French immigrant’s rapturous description of the new phenomenon, an American.  Even before we were a nation, the question was on the table, framed as a complex and open-ended one. The idea is to force ourselves to recall our own pathways along with whatever answers we may have once held. 

The second session uses Mark Twain as a mid-point in the development of an American Nation and culture.  We read a chapter (IXX) from Huckleberry Finn and a short-short story, “Corn-pone Opinions.”  Who else comes to mind as an early American icon or prototype? Why or why not? The third session looks at the present.  The press is awash in material.  A short bibliography is provided of recent writings and materials.  George Packer wrote in July 2021 in The Atlantic about “The Four Americas.” In 2018, Jon Meacham wrote The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels.  We’ll pursue our own reactions as the Question as it presents itself almost each day….e.g., today, some ask Who are we to push back so strongly on Putin in the Ukraine?  And some say, Who but America can push back with effect?….

Feedback from Charlie’s past courses:

This was a wonderful class.  Charlie Yonkers is a great facilitator.  The group of attendees was very interesting. I enjoyed the discussions and interactions so much, and also learned a lot. This was simply an outstanding course, and everyone felt so. Charlie has restructured his course so as to provide greater focus and more participation. In fact EVERYONE participated in each of the three sessions. And it wasn’t mere lip service participation.” 

We were all engrossed, not only in our own work but equally in that of each other’s. With Charlie’s help, what each of us contributed was meaningful, sometimes thrillingly and heartfelt. It was well paced and powerful at times. I enjoyed  the class input as they reached inside and shared some remarkable insights. I enjoyed the chance to renew my Sense of Place as well. Charlie has a great Zoomside manner.”

I believe this class should be experienced by everyone. Charlie Yonkers is a superb facilitator of a program that helps you dive deep into your memories and experiences in life and expands your awareness. I could take this class many times over and will be recommending it to others. A much appreciated expansive experience.”

The materials, readings,  direction, teaching and listening skills of the instructor were outstanding and I was delighted to be learning from him. Thank you Charlie for teaching me about how to see places beyond my imagination and getting a chance to write about them.”

(No Recording Offered)

3 Sessions | $30


Charles Yonkers, J.D.

Charles Edward Yonkers is a former Peace Corps Country Director, lawyer (Harvard, J.D., Yale, B.A.), and adjunct professor in Georgetown’s Graduate Liberal Studies Program (M.A.L.S.). His thesis was “The Creation of a Sense of Place: History, Culture, and Henderson, KY.” He has taught courses on A Sense of Place since 2011. His current place is Pot Pie Farm, Wittman, MD. In addition to his graduate studies at Georgetown University, he took a semester-long course by History Professor Ron Johnson entitled "What is an American?"

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