Legislators Teach and Learn: When Legislators Venture into Classrooms, Civics Come Alive

By Goehring, Jan | State Legislatures, January 2004 | Go to article overview

Legislators Teach and Learn: When Legislators Venture into Classrooms, Civics Come Alive


Goehring, Jan, State Legislatures


Nuts or no nuts? That proved to be the slicking point as first and second graders debated what makes a perfect chocolate chip cookie. The stalemate continued until one student stood up and asked why not make half with nuts and half without?

"That was the compromise, and it passed almost unanimously," says Arkansas Senator Kim Hendren. He led the kids through this classroom exercise to give them an idea of how legislators debate, negotiate and compromise on issues to find the best result.

This classroom visit was just one stop on a whirlwind tour of his six school districts.

Hendren, a teacher turned state legislator, decided to see as many kids as possible during the National Conference of State Legislatures-sponsored America's Legislators Back to School Week in September. He ventured into classrooms every day for two weeks and met with more than 4,000 students to tell them how the legislative process works. Many students had never met a "real live" senator before.

"If we don't get our young people involved in government," says Hendren, "America will suffer in the long run." That's what motivates him.

He engaged high school students in a discussion about teacher pay. "Do you believe that teachers who do the same jobs and teach the same course should receive the same pay anywhere in the state?" Hendren asked. Not everyone agreed and even posed difficult questions. "What I learn in these classroom visits makes me a better legislator," he says.

In addition to his classroom visits, Hendren invited a handful of students to accompany him to the Capitol for his legislative meetings. He took them to meet the governor and other constitutional officers. It's a four-hour drive from his district to Little Rock, so they had to leave at 4 in the morning.

ALL ACROSS THE COUNTRY

More than 1,500 state legislators ventured into classrooms to share ideas, answer questions and help young people understand the legislative process during the Back to School Week event. …

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