Friday, November 23, 2012

Leading Horses to Water

This quarter I have the opportunity to teach the subject of 'American Government' to a group of senior students via a block class format, and the first three weeks have provided a handful of memorable occasions when I was able to introduce new concepts. While the subject of Federalism means little to nothing for most people, it represents one of the fundamental principles for how our form of government was devised. It also separates us from other governments in distinct ways by providing the direct election of our leaders, placing responsibilities in the hands of leaders which can sometimes come into direct conflict with the interests of the common people.

The ways in which federal and state government have evolved over the years is a subject in itself, and I emphasize to students that it's important to be aware of what public officials can and CANNOT do with the powers granted to them within the confines of the constitution. I am guarded in sharing my personal opinions with students as I want them to make their own conclusions about current events and matters regarding issues which concern both present and future happenings. There are times when I act as devil's advocate in order to get them thinking about all sides sides of an issue, not just the side to which they gravitate to naturally. I want them to understand why liberals think one way, conservatives another, and how people can then get stuck in the middle. I find that young people tag themselves as "liberal" or "conservative" as they see a connection with being open-minded and fair when in fact it should be more of a relation to the responsibility and scope of government in our daily lives.

As we completed a portion of the unit, I asked my students as to how many of them were aware of a topic called Eminent Domain. Out of twenty-nine students, there was not one hand which went up and I jumped upon this opportunity to proceed with a discussion about whether local government could seize personal property for the common good of society. This issue does not take on the glamour whereby sides are easily defined, such as Democrats vs Republicans and liberal vs conservative. A pair of videos, one by Mike Wallace of 60 Minutes and another by a local TV reporter in Pennsylvania, brought the concept into a better light and students saw how the issue impacted quiet communities whereby 'progress' was defined as the demolition of neighborhoods in order to improve upon the existing tax base. Halfway into the video I paused to ask my students whether they could envision something like this taking place in Beaver Dam in order to build a new school, expand the highway, or improve upon the downtown area. It was here that the connection was made and my class was immediately divided in half. "It worked!"

Regardless of which position a person takes in the issue of eminent domain, I was seeking a connection of the unit theme (Federalism) with a pertinent topic of interest. Once that linking takes place within the mind of an individual, the magic of learning kicks into high gear and you see, hear and feel the correlation they've made. As a teacher I relish those moments and it is then that I am thankful for being in this time and place of my life. It gives me satisfaction and hope that more of these opportunities still lay ahead.

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