Byline: Kate Tsubata, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Back in the dark ages when I was in school, we studied government by memorizing a description in our textbooks and later writing it out on a test. This method gave me a superficial and poor understanding of the system under which we live, a handicap that lasted into my adult years.
In our family, we believe in hands-on learning. This week, my children have engaged in a living civics lesson and seem to have come out of it with a far greater understanding of our political system than I had at their age.
We learned that an issue of interest to our family is being discussed in Congress. From a national organization, we obtained petition forms to express our views to the representatives. Then we embarked on a campaign to get signatures on the petitions.
My husband visited neighbors and got them to sign. He also made an announcement in church and signed up a bunch of people after the service. Meanwhile, my children and I went to a large event and got people to sign up after the main event was over. Altogether, we gathered about 200 signatures in a few days.
Then the children and another home-schooler called our state's congressional offices. They asked for appointments to meet with the representatives. We piled into our old station wagon, went into the District and visited each office. In some, we spoke with the member of Congress; in others, we spoke with a legislative aide. The children explained their activities and reported their observations. They described the solution they feel is appropriate. When asked questions of a factual nature, they responded with correct information, in their own words.
Along the way, they learned many things that never appear in textbooks. They learned how the congressional staff members gather information and advise the representative. They learned how subcommittees operate. They heard the bells that advise members to gather for a vote, and they asked questions about the practical aspects of the voting.
They saw hundreds of other people visiting the representatives - some paid lobbyists and others ordinary citizens with a concern. They learned the names of all the representatives from our state, and they got to know several in greater depth through their discussions. Underlying all of this, they understood the amazing fact of American political life: Each citizen has a voice, and each person has the right to express his or her opinion to our elected representatives. In a world where many people could not imagine meeting or expressing an opinion to the legislative body of their nation, this is a precious realization.
Home-schoolers are unique in their freedom to be able to learn lessons in hands-on ways. No matter where you live, there are government offices nearby. Students can get involved in civic matters on many levels. They can speak before the city council or visit the mayor with a concern or proposal. They can gather information and get signatures on a petition. They even can help create new legislation or new events for their area.
Of course, the best teachers of active citizenship are adults who are involved in civic life. …