Booth-Carmona Correspondence

Feb 11th, 2019 | By | Category: Winter 2019

Return to “Fancy Pants and Pen Pals.”

Editor’s note: Below is an excerpt of correspondence among Gergory Masterson Booth’s students at Sheridan High School in Thornville, Ohio, and Pierre Carmona’s students at San Francisco University High School in San Francisco. Gregory’s students’ entries are in blue, while Pierre’s are in black.


Hi Block 4! My name is Margaret, and I am a junior at UHS. I really appreciated your word web of San Francisco, and I honestly feel it’s pretty accurate, though we don’t have all that many palm trees, and we don’t seem to get as much sunshine as we would like. We actually get fog most days. In terms of our word webs, I want to apologize for our harsh view of your county. I’m sure most of us were just going off of stereotypes because we don’t know anything about where you live. Now a little about me. Unlike most of my classmates, I actually don’t live in San Francisco, but rather in Berkeley, which is across the bay and East of SF. We’re a much smaller city (100,000 people to SF’s 800,000), and we too have a vibrant culture.). I am a musician: I compose music, and I also play violin and sing. I somehow manage to incorporate music into most things that I do. My main focus is classical music, but I like pretty much every genre. Are any of you musicians? If so, what instruments and what genres do you like? I would love to hear what you listen to. I really enjoyed seeing your photo essays. Your pictures were really beautiful. I noticed one or two of you are mechanics. That’s really cool; I wish I could do that sort of work.

Hey, Margaret! My name is Haley McLean and I am 15 years old. I am a sophomore at Sheridan High School. Though I was born in Newark, Ohio, I live in Glenford, Ohio (a small town inside of Perry County) with my mom, dad, and younger brother, Kaiden, where I have lived all of my life. I play softball as well as being a cheerleader, and I also show lambs at our county fair. I have played softball for the past eight, going on nine years now and I have been a cheerleader for our school since eighth grade.

I see that you are very into music. I do not play any instruments or sing, but I do love listening to music and I attend concerts pretty often. The most recent one that I went to was this past weekend. It was a two day event called Country Jam that I attend every year. I like all genres of music but I tend to listen to more country music more than anything.

Though some of the things your classes said about Perry County were pretty harsh, we wrote things that were stereotypical such as “ruthless street gangs”. I think that your class was pretty close to what Perry County is like but, you were wrong about some things such as “uneducated”. I don’t think that we are uneducated, though from your point of view, you might see us as that because of the type of school you go to.

I am excited to get to talk more with your class and learn more about San Francisco and what it is like where you are from!

Howdy, Margaret. My name’s Eli. I thought that your word web of Perry County was pretty close; we are pretty much what you expect, tractor riding rednecks that are conservative and hard headed. We’ve got lots of fields and guns around here, and I saw that one or two of you guys wrote “uneducated,” which we might not be the best at grammar, and we may have a bit of an accent, but other than that we actually are pretty smart at what we do. It was interesting about how different our views of San Francisco were. Ours focused more on the landmarks that we

figured went with the big city of SF, and yours focused more on the type of people and different foods and cultures that exist over on the coast. Also, you don’t have to apologize about your “harsh view”. Like I said before, we are pretty much what you expect. Although, I am sad to say that there are many people around here that act like they grew up in downtown New York, and act like they are a gang member or something. Anyway, now to talk about me. I am a sophomore at Sheridan High School and I work after school and on weekends as a mechanic, but I also own a landscaping business. I actually just this weekend finished building a homemade fourwheeler that I have been working on for a couple months now. One of my favorite things during the summer is going to the Perry County Fair. I show hogs at the fair, and next year I think I will show a steer. At the fair, I also pull in the tractor pulls, eat a lot of food, and hang out with a couple of my good friends and usually end up doing some really crazy stuff. My main focus is to be a farmer and a mechanic, and have a good time while doing it. To answer some of your questions, I’m not a musician myself, but I know people that play some instruments. I personally am into old country: Alabama, Charlie Daniels Band, C.W McCall, ect. One of my personal favorite songs is “Dixieland Delight” by Alabama. I’ve also been wondering some things about life in SF. Do you have county fairs with livestock shows? Does your school have “Drive your Tractor to School Day?” Do you drive trucks? Do people wear boots? Finally, is rain a good thing?

Hi Haley and Eli,

Thank you for your thoughtful responses.
Eli, I think that’s so cool that you own your own landscaping business already! To answer

some of your questions, though San Francisco (which is both a city and its own county) doesn’t have a county fair with a livestock show, my county, Alameda County, does. I actually go there most years, and it’s really fun for me. UHS doesn’t have “Drive Your Tractor to School Day”. In fact, we’re not even allowed to drive to school at all, because we are in a residential neighborhood, and we have an agreement with the city. I have just started driving, and I don’t own a truck, but I know plenty of people who do. What kind of boots do you mean? Plenty of people wear boots, but not necessarily work boots. And yes, rain is a good thing. For a really long time (5+ years) we were in one of the worst droughts ever. So, we always welcome rain. Plus, I personally just really love rainy days.

Haley, I’m glad that you like to listen to music. I always think listening to someone else’s music can help you get a glimpse into that person’s life. Are there any artists in particular that you like? Also, I definitely don’t think you guys are “uneducated”, just so you know. I think you come from a different background, and so your outlook on life is vastly different. I’m just interested in finding out more about your culture, which is so very different than mine.

About ​Hillbilly Elegy​, the main thing that stuck out to me was that there are a lot of similarities between J.D. Vance’s family and my own extended family. Like his grandparents, my grandparents were also married as teenagers, though they were a little bit older (18 and 19). However, as far as I can tell so far, the atmosphere of where my mom grew up is very different than Jackson, Ohio. My mom’s family is from rural Illinois (Amboy, IL) and my dad is from South Bend, Indiana. Both sides of my family were pretty significantly low-income, especially when my paternal grandparents were growing up. My mom was the J.D. Vance of her family. While she wasn’t the first of her nuclear family to go to college, she was one of two (she and her sister) who graduated. She was also the only one to go to an Ivy League School. She, like Vance, went to Yale. Like Vance, I, too, love my extended family, despite their flaws.

One spot in the book that really confused and bothered me was on pages 7-8, when Vance says “I do hope readers of this book will be able to take from it an appreciation of how class and family affect the poor without filtering their views through a racial prism.” To my understanding, you can’t separate race from class. Sure, everyone has the opportunity to be poor, but for people of color, it’s much, much harder for them to come out of poverty. Also, it bothered me that he insisted that this wasn’t about race, yet kept mentioning that people he knew that killed or nearly killed people didn’t go to jail for it. However, if they had been of color (and especially if they were black), they would almost certainly have gone to jail, if they weren’t killed before then. One interesting book I read about this subject was ​Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. We read it for school last summer, and it was really eye-opening for me.

I hope my reaction to the first 30 pages of the book gives you food for thought. I don’t know if you’ll have the same assignment as we did, but if you do, I think it will be interesting to see how you respond to it, given that you are growing up in a similar place to where the book takes place.

– Margaret

Hey Margaret! I think it is great that we get the opportunity to learn about each other’s life, culture and also collaborate on school assignments. It was interesting to hear that the students from your school are not allowed to drive to school. I don’t think that I would enjoy that just because I have always wanted to drive myself to school, which I am very glad that I get to do soon. To answer your question about artists that I like, for country music I would have to say Chris Stapleton is probably one of my favorites. If we are talking about other music, I like artists such as J. Cole or Kendrick Lamar. I would love to hear about the music that you like or any specific artists. Also, I would love to learn more about you and your music as well!

Like you, I can also compare my own extended family with the family of J.D. Vance. When my grandparents got married, my grandma was only 16, though my grandpa was not as young as her considering that he is about 8 or 9 years older than her I think. Like yours, my mom and her siblings grew up in a low-income family. And when my grandparents divorced, the situation with my mom and her sibling changed a little. They lived with my grandpa and because he worked a lot, they mostly stayed with their grandparents.

When you said that the book confused and bothered you, I would have to agree with that. I do feel that he contradicted himself when he said that the book was not about race but, like you said, kept bringing up that he knew people that killed or almost killed people and didn’t go to jail for it.

Hello again, I think that it’s pretty cool that you can go to a county fair almost every year where you live. I always thought that fairs were frowned upon in your part of the country. Around here, Drive Your Tractor to School Day is very common with most of the schools, I was kind of surprised to hear that your school doesn’t even allow anyone to drive to school at all. I’m glad to hear that rain is a good thing in SF, because around here, it is also a good thing, most of the time. As Luke Bryan says: “ Rain makes corn, corn makes whiskey…” Although, too much rain is also a very bad thing. When it rains heavily for a couple days, it starts to erode the fields and wash away the crops.

About ​Hillbilly Elegy​, I haven’t yet read as much as the rest of my class because I wasn’t at school on Friday, but I did read the first part of it. I like how this book is going to be about the life of just some normal person, not some big celebrity or some high school girl that has a crush on a vampire. I’mpersonally not big on reading books myself, but this sounds like a book that I might find interesting. Like I said before, I haven’t read much of it yet, so I don’t have much more to say about the book.

I think that this collaboration thing that we are doing is pretty cool, learning about each other’s lives, finding out how people from other parts of the country think about the same projects that we are doing. I don’t travel very much so I’ve never really communicated with people outside of my area before, so this is all new and exciting for me. How about you? Do you travel much or communicate with people far away often? My teacher told me that some of you guys were wondering who we were in our class photo, so I’m going to try to point myself out. I am the one in the blue, all the way on the right. I have the hat on. If you would point yourself out of your picture, that would be really neat. Well, I’m out of time, talk to ya later.

Hey Margaret, my class was told that people in your class would like to know how true to our life this book is. As much as I would love to say that this book is not accurate to the life we have in Perry County, it is true. There are some exceptions that I see though, considering life here is not as extreme as what is said in the book. For instance, I have never seen anyone getting chased around with knives or switches, or the law looking past a murder of someone (no matter the crime this person has committed, which in the book, was rape). But, I do think that in Perry County, like within the book, there is a drug problem around us. As lucky as I am to say that my family does not struggle with this, I have friends, friends of friends, or just people that I know of or have heard about that either struggle with a drug problem, or have people in their family that struggle with it.

Hi again, my teacher said that we had to answer about whether or not this book is like how life is around here. I believe that it is, but maybe not as extreme as in the book. Most of us don’t beat up some guy for saying something bad about their mother, but I know a few people that will. We don’t always chase each other around with switches, but when we do, it is usually in the form of a game. We do have a drug problem around here, but not every family has a background with it. As for the fact that Vance is constantly being moved around because of the way his mom changes men all the time, I know people like that, but when most people around here get together, they stay together. That’s all I’ve got to say about that. See you later.

Hi Haley and Eli,
I am fortunate to not know anyone who currently abuses drugs, but I know many people in San Francisco and in Berkeley do. I would agree with your statement about how life isn’t as extreme as it is portrayed in the book. Here, while there is violence, it’s usually not for something that small, and the law is enforced more strictly (as far as I know; I don’t really hear too much about the violence here). Eli, I find it interesting that you know people that are like in the book. I’ve never met anyone like that so it’s interesting that there is such a cultural difference, with some people. I wonder why some people are like that while others are not.


Hello, my class was informed that we had to write to you guys about what ways our environment has affected our educational aspirations/ expectations, and how much our community values education. Well, I personally think that since a lot of Perry County is still full of farmers, (except for New Lex, but I don’t want to talk about them right now) right after most of us get out of high school, we go find a job and don’t really think that we need a higher education to get by. Some of us go be farmhands until we can afford a farm of our own, some of us go and work as mechanics, and some of us work at Kroger or something. Even though so many of us do this, more and more people these days are abandoning farming and going to college to become who knows what. On to the next question, I feel that there are many of us that just want to graduate high school so we can make a paycheck, but there are also many of us that do calculus just for the fun of it. Most of my friends after they graduate are going to farm or go to a trade school just to get certified at what they are already better at than most “professionals.” So for my group of people, learning not very useful things like trigonometry and all the laws of english, just doesn’t make any sense to us. So for me and my friends, we don’t value education as much as the people around us. To try to honestly answer that question realistically, I would say that maybe 50% of us extremely value education, and the other 50% just want to get out of school as quick as possible just so we can make that paycheck. I guess that we are also supposed to write about how we feel about the book, so I will do that now. I’m not liking the book, contrary to what I thought in the first couple of chapters. It just keeps dragging on and he over details certain things, and just skips over two years or so, it is not consistent at all. Also, when I read a book, I like to read the book, hear the story and move on. But reading this book, we keep having to over complicate things and pull out deeper meanings. That just totally ruins the book, in my opinion. To answer your question up above, I have no idea why some people decide to use drugs and stuff, it just doesn’t make much sense to me. Actually, recently in class we had a discussion/ argument about drug overdoses and all that stuff, so it’s kinda weird that we’re talking about it now. This is totally off topic, but I have had a song stuck in my head all day, and I know you play music, so I was wondering if you have heard the song “Three Wooden Crosses” by Randy Travis? If not, you should listen to it, it’s pretty darn good. So is “Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning?” by Alan Jackson. I’d like to know what you think of these songs, and what type of music is popular or common or whatever in SF. Well, we are running out of time, and I can’t think of anything else to type. I saw that you guys said that it was becoming hard to respond to us because our responses were getting short, so I hope this is long enough for you to be able to respond with ease. Talk to y’all later.

For correspondence: In what ways do you think your environment has affected your educational aspirations / expectations? Do you think your community values education? If yes, how does that value manifest itself? If not, why not? Support anecdotes with evidence.

In your response, I noticed that you confirmed most of our beliefs that there is violence in San Francisco. I read that you don’t really hear much about the crime in your city but, in your opinion, do you think that the violence and crime is a problem within the community of San Francisco?

My teacher, Mr. Booth, is having us answer the question above about how we think our environment has affected our educational aspirations/expectations. I think that my environment, or should I say the people in my environment, have really impacted how I feel about education. Both of my parents expect me to study and get good grades. They will help me with any problem in school or my classes that I may be having and they want to see me succeed in life. I, myself also want to succeed in life by getting into the college I want and later having the job I have always dreamt of. I have expectations for myself and want to do well in school but, without my parents, I don’t think I would want to be as involved as I am.

Hi Haley and Eli,
I wanted to address the video call we had in class last week. What did you guys think about it? Ithought it might have been too complicated of a topic to start with, but it was really interesting hearingabout your perspectives. Eli, I know where you stand, but Haley, I am curious about what you think surrounding the topics we discussed. (Also, I will not judge: in my opinion, everyone has the right to their own opinion. So please be honest.) For me personally, I support the whole kneeling business with the NFL. This is because I don’t see it as disrespecting the flag. I see it as giving the flag a sign of respect but also using your constitutional right to protest in order to benefit the country. The reason I see it as a sign of respect is that kneeling has always been respectful: you kneel when you pray, you kneel when you propose marriage, you used to kneel before your sovereign. I actually saw a Huffington Post article that showed ways of disrespecting that are really common, and I thought that was interesting, because kneeling is not something listed.

Here is the link to the article:

Relating to police brutality, here is an articles that I think is interesting: ople-killed-by-police-yes-but-no/?utm_term=.25db344c4431

Eli, I just wanted to let you know that, while I don’t agree with you necessarily, I also think your opinion is quite valid. I just wanted you to know that I really valued the conversation we had the other day, because it allowed me to see an important point of view in this country that I hadn’t really previously been exposed to. I highly encourage you to read the article, and I hope you enjoy it.

In terms of Black Lives matter, I was wondering why you see them as a hate group. Do you think it is a conclusion you came to on your own, or because of your community or both? See, I have heard very different, more positive views of the organization. I think their idea is not to enforce black  superiority; rather, it is to remind people that Black lives do matter, because they are constantly told that they don’t. My reasoning for that is their mission statement, in which they say:

“#BlackLivesMatter is a call to action and a response to the virulent anti-Black racism that permeates our society […] #BlackLivesMatter is working for a world where Black lives are no longer systematically and intentionally targeted for demise. We affirm our contributions to this society, our humanity, and our resilience in the face of deadly oppression​.”

In terms of value put on education, I don’t speak for all of San Francisco/The Bay Area, but in my community, college is practically mandatory. (It’s not, but the general idea is that you will go to college.) At UHS, people seem to be always talking about where they want to/will go for college. It’s a little tiring. I personally plan on going to college, and eventually even graduate school, so it’s interesting to me that so many people in your community don’t go to college. Haley, would you agree with what Eli said about this subject? I know you said you plan on attending college, so you must be part of the 50% Eli mentioned that really values education. Also, Haley, what is the job you want? I think our future careers are very telling about us as people.

Eli, I am kind of ambivalent about the book. I certainly don’t think he has (so far) achieved his goals that he listed in the beginning of the book. I don’t feel all that much more empathetic to his community than the empathy I started out with. I was wondering how much the book resonates with you and your experience. I certainly relate to the sections where his grandparents die, and the idea of him moving out of a rural town to a city as that is what my mom did. But other than that, I’m finding it hard to relate to the book.

Haley, when I mentioned the violence in SF, I was speaking on general terms, not from my experience. I don’t personally know of any violence in particular. Of course, I know about what is in the newspaper, but that is definitely not the biggest problem, I think, in San Francisco. I think our biggest problem is gentrification, that is, rich people coming in to SF and driving out the culture that brought them there in the first place, which leads to higher housing prices, and more homelessness. We will probably talk a considerable amount about that in the coming months, when we focus on San Francisco, so I won’t go into it in all that much detail.

We ain’t got much time today, so I am going to have to be brief and answer some of your questions at a later date. My teacher said that we had to pick and choose some of the questions that your class sent us to answer. So I will be answering #s 2, 3, 6, and 7. #2: I feel that the upper class consists of two types of people: the people that worked hard for it (who I admire), and the people who got the money from their parents and haven’t worked a day in their life (who I don’t admire). My aspirations after high school are to work as a farmhand, then buy a farm and start a mechanics shop. #3: I admire Vance because he started small and worked his butt off to get where he is now. #6: Vance is allowed to title his book whatever the heck he wants because he is the one that put all the work in to write it. #7: I haven’t thought about it because it would just be wasting money and four years of my life, and I don’t need to know all the rules of proper english and advanced math and psychology (I mean, even the mechanic schools I looked at for a little bit require psychology), it is not important to what I am doing in life. I am running out of time, but I just wanted to say that during the video conference, how I was is not at all really how I argue, it was just really weird talking to people while facetiming like that.

Hi Margaret. To answer your question about where I stand with the whole controversy going on within the NFL, I’m not 100% sure where I stand. I will admit that the very first time Colin Kaepernick kneel during the National Anthem, I lost all respect that I had for him and questioned his actions. As, I read into it and learned what his intentions were, I questioned myself for getting bothered so quickly. When I read the reasons that he was doing it were to raise awareness about the police brutality, I gained my respect back for him because he would have to be very passionate about it to publicly kneel during the National Anthem, knowing he would get hate for it. In class, Eli said that he thought Colin Kaepernick was doing it for attention. I agree with him that he wanted attention, but not on himself. He was trying to bring attention to the bigger issues in our country. I don’t understand how Eli could feel that all he wanted was attention when now, Kaepernick is out of work and cannot find a team to accept him. I think that the people that are kneeling now in the NFL that are just doing it because they don’t like Donald Trump are the ones that are making it worse for the people that are truly trying to make a difference. I support the people trying to make a difference, but I will always stand and proudly sing the National Anthem.

To start about the topic of education, I don’t really know how accurate the 50% thing that Eli mentioned is. I definitely do think that there are people who value education and people who don’t. I think that I would classify myself as a person who values education and learning. Yes, I do plan on attending college. I have had dreams of either attending The University of Washington or Harvard (yes I know it’s a long shot). As for what job I want, I have always clung to the idea of becoming a neurosurgeon. It is something I have always dreamt of being.

So now that I have answered your questions, I will now answer the sheet of questions that your class had for us.

2. So I guess this is kind of a weird question because I think that people are people. I don’t think it matters where you stand in society or how much money you have, I think that if you are a genuinely good person, you are already succeeding in life. For my aspirations after high school, I want to attend college and hopefully become a neurosurgeon.

7. Yes, I have thought about attending college out of state. I would like to either go to The University of Washington or Harvard. The reason that I have thought about attending these colleges is because they are highly ranked on the top medical schools in the country and I would love if I had accomplished my goal of getting into one of them.


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