Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Norway Doorway, pt 1

Randall Stephens

Last week I had the pleasure of teaching several lectures in Stavanger and Bryne, Norway, as part of my work as a Fulbright Roving Scholar here. The students were bright and had, for the most part, high proficiency in English. Some, I figure, have a better grasp of English than do many American college students. (Thanks to all the teachers for being such great hosts!)

I gave a few talks and generated some discussion with students at the Stavanger Katedralskole, an institution that dates back to the early 19th century. The cathedral that looms next to it is Norway's oldest, dating to the 1100s. The beautiful interior of the school looked like something out of a Carl Larsson painting.

The school describes itself with the following on its website.

Stavanger Cathedral School, Royal Farm, is one of the oldest schools and has since 1800 been one of the most prestigious and tradition-rich school in Stavanger. The school is located between the city lake, Cathedral Square and within walking distance to almost everything in the city center. The school has teachers who are deeply committed and have a high professional competence. Stavanger Cathedral School is characterized by high job satisfaction among the approximately 485 students, and as a student here, you will develop friends for life! Student Activities at the school are varied and we have much to offer. Stavanger Cathedral School is a modern school, with well-equipped classrooms and special rooms.

I spoke to the students about American advertising in the postwar era, the 2012 election, and the founding of America. It was interesting to talk with them about the role the US plays in the world and to hear what they had to say about America from the vantage of Norway.

We started out our look at the founding by asking what role the government should play in the lives of citizens. "It should guarantee the welfare of all," said some. Others thought that governments should be responsible for securing education and equal opportunities. We had some time to talk about the long anti-government tradition in America and to focus on some of the debates among the founders over less or more government. That theme tied in well with the 2012 election, the Tea Party, and the views that GOP candidates have expressed about President Obama. I used a recent quote from frontrunner Mitt Romney: "President Obama wants to make us a European style welfare state, where instead of being a merit society, we're an entitlement society, where government's role is to take from some and give to others."*

One of the challenges for me will be to try to explain why so many Americans have a low opinion of the government and how that has been critical to the debates that have roiled the public over the decades and centuries.

Now, on to give talks in Porsgrunn and Oslo this week.

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