I readily confess that when I was a kid, Civics was far and away my favorite class. I marveled at what could be accomplished when people pulled together. I stared in amazement at the USS Yorktown. I gaped at the Brooklyn Bridge and the Empire State Building, and watched with rapt attention as the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center crept upward. I realized at a young age that big things require a team effort.
When I go out in the woods, I think about how awesome the task was to blaze the trails that led the westward expansion, and the challenges of building roads through the wilderness. (I probably missed my calling when I didn’t become a Civil Engineer. Or a Civics teacher.)
I had good Civics teachers and I knew by second grade that I had a right to petition my government and that the people who were elected to serve me were elected to serve me, and if they failed to do so, I had a right to protest, and that included writing a letter to the officials who represented me. I knew that my state representative was Mike Baker and he owned the shoe store on the square in Bethany. I stood beside my Grandmother on several occasions while she cornered him about one issue or another.
I was ten when I wrote my first letter to my Congressman and got a hand-written answer back.
I wrote to Jerry Litton when I was in fourth grade and thanked him for his votes that championed conservation and the environment.
He wrote back and told me that my letter was one of the best one he had ever received on the subject and it had touched him deeply, because he had children my age and we would grow up one day and he wanted to hand off something that was at least as good as what his generation had inherited.
He ruined me. He was a politician who actually gave a damn about his constituents, and I found this out at a young age. I don’t give a damn about the size of government and never have. I care about the quality of government. In fact, I have thought since I was in grade school that the government I studied in Civics class was just the bees knees and we really ought to get around to giving it a whirl.
But do you think for one second I would have known I had the right to speak up and be heard by my congressman at the tender age of ten if I had not had wonderful teachers like Marjorie Hendren and Gloria Phillips?
Hell no I wouldn’t have. Teachers actually teaching Civics to grade-schoolers is where involved, high-information voters come from.
Republican politicians absolutely hate that. Especially when Dad is a state rep who gets a letter from his little angel taking him to task for cutting school funding.
A North Carolina lawmaker doesn’t think it was right for his daughter and her third-grade class to write to him and other elected officials protesting possible cuts in state education spending.
Republican state Rep. Mike Stone says his daughter asked in her note to “please raise the budget, dad” and help keep two teacher assistants employed.
Republican lawmakers and Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue are at odds over the budget that is on her desk to either sign or veto.Some in education say the proposed spending plan could eliminate 9,300 positions in the public schools. Republicans have said those numbers are exaggerated.
Writing to your representatives is as much a part of Civics education as the annual trip to the state capital and someone crying because they didn’t get the role they wanted in the school play. Fortunately, the Superintendent of Schools isn’t phased by the representative taking offense at the children — you know, the people who are immediately affected when education budgets get slashed, in spite of the fact that they don’t have a vote — getting involved in the school funding fight.
I know that republicans do better at the ballot box when voters are ill-informed, but America does worse. That’s an important distinction. Kids writing to their elected representatives is a cornerstone of an informed electorate, and help us all if schools are ever cowed into stopping the practice.
I wrote those letters, my children wrote those letters, and so will my granddaughter…whether they teach it in school or not.