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Commentary: Teaching What Democracy Looks Like!

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Monica Corsaro

Hello Friends, it is good to be back with you on the airwaves. It has been a while and, oh my gosh, look at our world since we were last together:  We got the goings on in Texas where all the rights of women's agency and autonomy have been stripped; we got fires in California, flooding in Louisiana, the destruction in New Jersey; the fall of Afghanistan; the 20th year since 9/11. To mask or not to mask, to vaccinate or not to vaccinate.

Oh my gosh, what a world we live in. But I am not going to talk about any of that today.

Instead I am going to go back to basics.

Friends, the events of January 6th just freaked me out and caused me to change my life.  Let me tell you what I mean. 

I have gone back to school. I decided I need some training.  I have gone back to get my teacher’s certification for 7-12 grades with endorsements in Exceptional Children and in Social Science.   I know you are thinking: January 6th happened and now you want to go to middle and/or high school?

In one of my many lives before returning to the Prairie I was the first-ever chaplain at the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Part of my work was to lobby our elected officials about the importance of full wrap around basic healthcare services for all women, of any religion or none. The point is they lived in the United States - a democracy, not a theocracy - and all deserved the protections of our constitution and access to healthcare. You all know the drill. 

One of my most favorite things to do would be to take young activists through the hallowed halls of the Capitol building talk about the marble floors, eat in the downstairs cafeteria where they could see the movers and shakers having an egg salad sandwich, I would even take them up to balcony of the floor of the House and or Senate to watch a bill be argued.

Once, when a high schooler myself, I got to see Senator Edward Kennedy argue down his own bill because it had been changed so much from his original intent. Democracy in action!

So to see all this threatened on January 6th, I just wept, and I thought to myself about so many of the these folks with their vitriol and their selfies -they really do not understand how civics work or the crimes they are committing.

I was lucky enough to have amazing history, government, and social studies teachers right here on the Prairie. I was taught to be in touch with the world ala our World Problems class where we read Newsweek and discussed it each week – engaging, learning to think about our world in its moment. 

I was taught I could be a participant in my democracy ala the trip I was chosen to go on to DC with other juniors and seniors that year.

I was taught no matter what party; part of the democracy was to discuss with others at a table and work together to get to a solution that works for all.  

So January 7th I decided I am going back to school and have been in a teacher certification program since May.

Yesterday I was observing a Life Skills class in our region and lo and behold one of the units we worked on was the government. The question came up: What does the government do?

It exists to keep us safe through laws and people working together.  And then the students got to see examples of laws such as the crosswalk and learning that when the light is red it is not safe to go, but when green it is; learning that there are firefighters who work for us to keep us safe, how we pay taxes so they can have equipment and exist. We learned that democracy is voting for elected officials who then work for these things.

Sometimes the person we vote for does not win but we are still in a democracy and can work with them.  All of this in a Life Skills class, yes.  Maybe we all need to take a moment and take time to learn the basics of our democracy, how unique it is, how very fragile it has become, and how we almost lost it.

Friends, I do not plan on leaving higher ed, but to use my new education to expand who I get to work with. In higher ed we are welcoming students who have all different sorts of ways of learning, and we are not training our professors or student life professionals in how to work with them.  So if I, in this age of diversity, inclusion, and equity, can do my part to educate and be trained, I hopefully can welcome these amazing students more fully and assist my colleagues in doing the same.  And all students should get the chance to know they are important and potential leaders for us all!

Just because we live in what the coasts like to call the fly over zone does not mean we have to act like it.  We are the backbone of the United States of America and there is no reason our students - no matter their grade and/or their learning style - cannot know they are part of a global community and they can be participants in it fully by being elected to office, being an entrepreneur, being in the arts. The point is they participate, question, be innovative, and speak out and are listened to.

Friends in these next days when we are all feeling vulnerable let us take time and listen to what is the on the heart and mind of a young person. I am here to tell you it will make a difference in what kind of adult they will be.

Friends, it is good to be back and I will see you around the community that I call the classroom.

Monica Corsaro is the Interim Chaplain at Monmouth College.

The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Tri States Public Radio or its license holder, Western Illinois University.

Diverse viewpoints are welcomed and encouraged.