Katie Reen graciously shared a copy of her oral exam paper incorporating her insighhts from the National Academy at Occidental College last summer. Katie’s students are 11 and 12 years old and she explains, “The concept of my paper is a letter to my students, past, present and future about what I wish for them as people and as citizens.”
Below is the section related to citizenship…
Now you know that no love letter written to you from me would be complete without my wishes for you as citizens of our community, our country and our world. And you may think that it is slightly strange that I would transition to the topic of politics in a letter about religion and spirituality as most see them as completely unconnected, or even the antithesis of one another. But I actually see them as very connected. You see when I think of our membership in a democratic society, I consider it to be a covenantal relationship. Each one of us enters this sacred compact and agrees to jointly protect and defend one another’s freedom and liberty. The preservation of this covenant ought to be the principle business of our work as citizens.
While I don’t want to put an undue amount of pressure on you, I do think you all should know that I fundamentally believe that the survival of our democracy rests on your shoulders. Our Founding Fathers designed our unique form of democracy as a “Grand Experiment.” They naively believed that the people, yes the people, could be trusted to guard their liberties and build a society based on justice and the common good. And though they borrowed their ideas from the great thinkers of antiquity including Aristotle, Cicero, Locke and Hobbs, their ideas were revolutionary and a clear departure from the past.
Although the system they created is less than perfect, I would venture to say that you enjoy more security, more safety, more opportunity, and more freedom in the United States than people in any other part of the world. If you want this experiment to succeed – your energy, enthusiasm and service is required. George Marshall, an American general, once said that, “Democracy is the most demanding of all forms of government in terms of the energy, imagination, and public spirit required of the individual.” You, the individual, the citizen, are the most crucial component of our nation’s survival. Just as it has been suggested that your teachers are not teaching you enough about religion and spirituality, it has also been suggested that they are not teaching you enough about the foundations of government and your role in its upkeep. There is some irony in this phenomenon, as the original purpose of public education was to educate the citizen for it was feared that without an educated and virtuous citizenry, no republic could survive. Until last summer, I would have considered myself to be a teacher that Thomas Jefferson would be proud of, as I always taught my students about their government. However, after attending a three week long academy sponsored by the Center for Civic Education, I learned that I had been going about this study in my classroom all wrong.