When I first started teaching, I was about as idealistic as one could get. I can still remember sitting in my apartment that first year, grading papers under the artificial light of the coffee table lamp and lamenting the fact one of my students received an “F” on a quiz, the contents of which I went over and over during the class period in preparation for said quiz.
In those early days I was teaching basic English: noun, verb, adverb, adjective. Boring, to say the least, but necessary if students were going to master the bare minimum of writing structure. I supplemented my lessons with short readings, creative sentences to keep their attention, as well as some other activities, but in the end, one can only dress up a porcupine so much: it’s still a porcupine.
I would be asked in those early years, and often in the subsequent ones when I taught history and political science, “Why do we need to learn this stuff? When am I ever going to use it?”
A valid question, and one I answered each year in the following manner when it came to studying the Constitution, law, and government:
“If you’re going to be a productive, contributing citizen of this nation, the very least you can do is learn how it works so that you can vote your conscience. It is imperative if the Republic is going to continue. One last piece of advice: never vote party and never vote politician for national office as neither of them care about you. Vote policy. What does the person stand for and is it good for the nation? That, to me, should be your measuring stick. And if they don’t hold up their end of the bargain, vote someone else next time.”
If students don’t see the relevance of what they’re doing and how it’s application will help them succeed in the future, then they’ll tune out. That’s the primary difference with today’s students compared to yesterday’s…they need to see the relevance to their lives, or at least the purpose. If they don’t see the practical reason for it, they tend to dismiss it as unnecessary.
I’ve thought about the issue of relevance over the past few days with the Supreme Court hearing oral arguments for keeping the leading Republican candidate, Donald Trump, off the ballot in Colorado. While I am now a retired teacher, the question of relevance is still important as a writer.
The problem for any writer/analyst or anyone who attempts to write about Mr. Trump in a neutral or analytical way, and certainly if that way seems in any capacity to defend him, is that a set of readers will see that person as a “Trump person,” immediately dismissing any findings or assertions of that defense. This is true even if the person is not a supporter of Mr. Trump’s current bid to become president again.
Yet…here I stand, I can do no other.
What the Colorado Supreme Court did was remove the leading Republican candidate due to a misguided interpretation of the Constitution’s insurrection clause, denying an entire section of the state, Western Colorado, and a predominantly conservative region to boot, the right to vote for the candidate of their choice.
It should be noted every member of the Colorado Supreme Court was nominated by Democrats, and while four members upheld the lower court ruling of keeping Mr. Trump off the ballot, three did not. It was, by definition, a divided court.
The decision was, to put it mildly, patently absurd, and certainly not in keeping with our Constitution, their interpretation a stretch, to say the least, not only in my mind, but even the most liberal scholars of the Constitution.
To me, there is a much bigger problem though, and one educators across the country are going to have to wrestle with if they’re going to be fair, impartial and non-partisan in teaching the Constitution or Civics.
If I were still teaching today, how would I defend the importance of voting, the right to vote for the candidate of one’s choice, and the imperative to learn how the system works if the system can remove a candidate from the ballot for what amounts to a partisan removal of said candidate? How do teachers inspire confidence in the system and instill a sense of civic responsibility to students if the system can be manipulated as easily as removing the leading candidate of a political party from consideration with flimsy excuses veiled as constitutionally sound?
One of the points the Colorado Supreme Court made was the lower court did not err in concluding that President Trump “engaged in” that insurrection through his personal actions.
That is simply wrong as Mr. Trump was not found guilty of anything like that. Accused, yes, but never found guilty. In fact, he was acquitted of that charge. That allows him to remain a viable choice, and the voters of Colorado, in keeping with our historic tradition, should have the opportunity to have their voices heard. If Mr. Trump was convicted of instigating and participating in an armed insurrection, then, by all means, remove him and anyone else from consideration. But that is not the case here, and no amount of political partisanship can change that fact.
The purpose of teaching political science/civics is to foster student engagement in our national politics, at the very least, through the vote, the bare minimum one should do in a republic such as ours. If that minimal involvement can’t be trusted, or a candidate removed from consideration simply because a member of the other political party deems that person unworthy, the system doesn’t work at all.
We might as well conjure up the ghost of King George III and tell him “We made a mistake, Your Majesty, this republic stuff doesn’t work after all. Sorry. Can we come home now?”
Worse yet, skepticism is bred in our young people, a skepticism not wholly unfounded when a state body like the Colorado Supreme Court, enters the fray. As stated, felony convictions are quite clear, and another matter entirely. But, in this case, there are none, and the cases pending against Mr. Trump are at best, overreach, other than the classified documents case which seems to have more “legs” than any of the others.
We seem much more interesting in who may win the Super Bowl, at this point a national holiday, than the state of Colorado intentionally attempting to keep the leading republican from the ballot for no constitutionally sound reason at all, other than a flimsy reading of the Constitution’s insurrection clause.
If I were in the classroom today, I might begin to agree with those student questions.
What’s the point of learning any of this at all? I’m never going to use it anyway.
 I’ve written before the dangers of political party considerations being involved in court decisions. It seems we’re sinking further and further into the abyss on that score, political party affiliation becoming one of the judicial criteria for consideration when rendering a verdict.
 He was acquitted by a vote of 57-43 on the question of whether or not he incited an insurrection.
 Now, even that being called into question based on the recent special council decision not to pursue charges against Mr. Biden for doing the same thing as a senator and Vice-President, two positions which do not grant him the right to declassify anything. The excuse? He’s a well-meaning but forgetful old man.