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Home / Articles / Columnists / On the Bright Side /  The Future’s So Bright, We’ll Have to Wear Shades
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Wednesday, March 3,2021

The Future’s So Bright, We’ll Have to Wear Shades

By Jonna Shutowick. M.S. Ed.  
What a time to be teaching a U.S. Government course to high school seniors! It’s a rare moment when students are chomping at the bit, interrupting each other in competition for the teacher’s attention to their questions. And they are asking questions! Questions about the electoral college; questions about impeachment; questions about what’s allowed and what’s not and how will it all get fixed? Our kids just want to know if it can all be fixed so we can go back to “normal.” (Don’t we all?) I am reminded of Nixon’s resignation. I was only seven. But I remember feeling that the world had changed. The assumption that our country runs itself and our leaders are always looking out for the best for us could no longer be taken for granted. My students are feeling a similar sense of uneasiness at this time. Whether they (or their parents) support Trump or Biden, or even Bernie, is irrelevant. We are all experiencing a lack of confidence in the “other side” and are being told in ways we have not seen in quite some time that if our side doesn’t win, life as we know it will be over. Well that is pretty scary, isn’t it? Ugh!

Part of me wants to reassure their steadfast belief that democracy cannot fail. But history informs us that no system of government, country, empire or civilization is guaranteed to last. So I put the question to them: If democracy is of the people, by the people and for the people and people are not paying attention or duly informed, is it really of the people? Active and informed citizenship are the pillars of our democracy. Thus, the advent of social media and its inadvertent, but positively malignant spread of misinformation has us all reeling at the moment. But necessity is the mother of invention, and our kids are on it. They really are tuning in.

When we look at the government’s foundation, it is easy for all to agree on the basic tenets of the Constitution. Understanding the mechanics of the three branches of government and the role each plays in keeping the other two in check helps students (and anyone who chooses to refresh their memory) see that we are all, in fact, defending the same principles. Where we may disagree is on the interpretation and implementation of the Constitution, which has been inherent since its inception, especially with regard to civil rights. It’s beautiful when I observe students realize there are two sides to every story and the truth lies somewhere in the middle. A light bulb comes on and they begin to ask how the adults in the room (i.e. the politicians who cannot seem to see further than the next election) forget that we are all, at the base of it, on the same page.

The reaction of students who have been inspired by the events of the past few months has reassured me to no end. This is their coming of age moment. Many turned 18 this year and voted for the first time. I’ve had more students than ever tell me they’ve decided to go into law, political science and/or history. Nothing makes my teacher’s heart happier.

If they have learned anything from me this year, I hope it is this: Discourse and debate are essential to problem solving. Polarities and power struggles are not. Knowledge is power, and understanding bias in the media is a key component. These kids are growing up in unprecedented times, but it is not the first time a generation of Americans had to look itself in the mirror and reconcile. The passion and seriousness with which my students from around the state of Florida have responded to learning about the history of our government has me feeling very optimistic about the future. Sunglasses, Everyone!

 

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