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?
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