“Until We See Our New Future”

My 4th period government class was winding down. The transition from instruction to classwork had begun. It was then that I heard the timid voice.

“Mr. Rios? I don’t think I want to vote.”

I froze for a moment. We had begun talking about voting history with the hope of empowerment, not discouragement. 

“Voting is so divisive. I just don’t think it’s a good idea.”

20 minutes later and a rabbit hole of conversation revealed a full class and an unexpectedly fulfilling moment. A surprisingly fulfilling moment.

Teaching these past few years has been a challenge. Heck, the past couple weeks have been a challenge. Between COVID-19, a teacher shortage, President Trump’s proposed ‘Patriotic Education’ Commission, and RBG’s death, being an educator is overwhelming and complicated. So, here we are, talking with a confused 17 year old wondering if voting is the problem with our democracy. 

Tomorrow, September 25th, Arizona celebrates Sandra Day O’Connor Day. A true pioneer, she is both at home on a cattle ranch and the bench of the Supreme Court, where she was the first woman to ever serve. Her legacy is one of civic education and championing the importance of an educated citizenry. Although it’s been said before, this year feels different. Divisive and vitriolic attempts to undermine our social contract are leading us to an election that presents each of us with an opportunity to plant our flag. As educators, our responsibilities are even broader.

Although it might be a bit late to revamp tomorrow’s lesson plans, moments of civics education needn’t be isolated to September 25th. Whether you teach pre-K or high school seniors, each day is an opportunity to promote civility and an awareness of, as George Washington put it, “The last great experiment, for promoting human happiness, by reasonable compact, in civil Society.” Teachers wear many hats and, often, those hats are beyond our job description. Society’s ills seem to look to education as a potential solution. But this one, civic education and responsibility, truly is our’s to own. What greater responsibility do we have than to move our society forward through the enlightening and challenging of the next generation of America’s leaders? 

My 4th period student had forgotten what many of us have also forgotten. The United States is a place that offers opportunity and responsibility, hope and disappointment, consensus and dissent. It is a place that requires our vigilance and participation to fulfill our common pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness. The national light of democracy is kept alight by the efforts of educators audacious enough to tell students they absolutely matter. So, with that in mind, I asked my nine year old daughter to write about our current moment. Here is an excerpt:

“Nothing seems to be working! Our future is already here…as we enter our future things get confusing, hard, and challenging. We must work hard to get to the other future that we know is there. We must challenge ourselves until we see our new future.”

As an educator and citizen, what role will you play in moving our country forward?


photo credit: SimpleSkye 190831 via photopin (license)



Nate Rios

Nate Rios has been a staple of the Flowing Wells community for 20 years. Even before earning a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Religious Studies from the University of Arizona and a post-baccalaureate certification in 2007, he was a part of Flowing Wells High School, in Tucson, Arizona. Beginning in 2000, at the age of 18, Rios began volunteering to help mentor students through the non-profit Young Life. Long before teaching, he felt a calling to care for high school students regardless of their life situations. Due to his teaching experience, his values have grown even stronger: relationships always come first.
In his 13 years teaching, Rios has worn many hats. Student Council, National Honors Society, leadership retreat, department chair, new teacher induction instructor, and instructional coach are just some of the many ways he’s contributed to the high school community. In 2018 he was an ambassador for teachers as a featured educator in Tucson Values Teacher’s documentary, TEACHING IN ARIZONA. His experiences caring for students and teachers both inside and outside of the classroom have led him all over the state to speak on behalf of educators and Arizona students. In 2020, his efforts culminated in his selection as an Arizona Educational Association Ambassador for Excellence.
Ask any of his colleagues or students and they’ll tell you that he is dedicated to the betterment of the lives of every child and teacher.

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