Book Review: Unification in a Divided Nation

The SHSU Common Reader program rests on a simple idea: that reading the same book brings people closer together as an educated community by creating common ground for discussion, and the common reader is chosen with a broad array of interests in mind. Each year the book selection committee— made up of students, faculty, and staff— is charged with selecting a book that (1) addresses complex issues relevant to students, (2) aligns with faculty expertise on these issues and (3) appeals to students and faculty from a wide array of disciplines. After rigorous analysis and discussion the 2018-2019 SHSU Common Reader selection is What Unites Us: Reflections on Patriotism, by esteemed alumnus, Dan Rather and Elliott Kirschner.  This book was chosen from over 100 book choice nominations solicited from the university community.

So how is Rather’s book relevant to students on our SHSU campus? First, Rather’s message is a positive one. One of the strong themes is his call to action to find your voice and to use it for the good of humanity. He uses examples of historical events where voice has mattered in changing the landscape of the American culture. In illustrating the role of “voice” as a journalist he states, “no one has a monopoly on the truth, but the whole premise of our democracy is that truth and justice must win out. And the role of a trained journalist is to get as close to the truth as is humanly possible.”

Rather discusses the history and power of voice through our right to vote, and in our freedom to disagree with the status quo. One of the SHSU Common Reader events designed to apply Rather’s concepts is “Get out the Vote: Critical thinking through Deliberative Dialogues”. Deliberative dialogues enables students to work through complex problems using logic, evidence, and empathy: skills that Rather promotes in his book.

Rather discusses the importance of expressing your voice through the arts.  He believes that “art is an attempt to capture the truths of the world as you see it in a medium you can share with others.” He encourages artists to lend their voice and perspective to local, national, and global conversations. To help students apply this concept to their work, the SHSU Common Reader program holds an art competition for student artists to express themes in the book.

The book is divided into five major topics whose themes are relevant to college students today: Freedom, Community, Exploration, Responsibility, and Character. His characterization of America is, “a nation not only of dreamers, but also of fixers. We have looked at our land and people, and said, time and time again, this is not good enough; we can be better.” Rather’s advice is that “a democracy requires open access to ideas. It requires a willingness to struggle and learn, to question our own suppositions and biases, to open ourselves as citizens, and a nation, to a world of books and thought.”

Reading this book across disciplines gives students a shared experience. Moderated discussions, curriculum infusion, and co-curricular events based on the book are designed to engage students in critical thinking about their role in the future of our society. Using Rather’s book as the SHSU Common Reader provides a vehicle for demonstrating the value of a college education for work, life, and global citizenship.

The culminating experience for the university community will be to hear Mr. Rather speak at the Keynote event on Thursday, October 11th at 2:00 pm in the Gaertner Performing Arts Center (GPAC). Tickets will be released to current faculty, staff, and students at 1:00 pm on the day of the event in the GPAC lobby.  Please bring your Bearkat OneCard and your book. A limited number of advance tickets for alumni can be obtained through the Office of Alumni Relations by e-mail

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