As devalued as teachers often are, with low salaries and difficult working conditions, it is not surprising that we take them for granted and forget how important they are to the functioning of our democracy.
And yet it is teachers at every level who set an example for their students about the functioning of our government. Who teach basic decency and citizenship values to children in their care through programs such as Character Power and iCivics. Who teach Civics and American history to middle and high school students. Who coach and judge speech and debate and congressional competitions - patiently, tirelessly, looking after and instructing emerging citizens. Who organize and chaperone innumerable 8th grade trips to Washington so that students can see where our democracy functions. Who train college and law students in the rule of law and the proper roles of the Executive, the Supreme Court, and the legislatures - state and federal.
A shout out to those teachers - all of them, at every level - who sustain our democratic institutions, day in and day out, for the next generation. Our democracy is not perfect, and we must improve it. But it is only through peaceful means - and the proper workings of government - that we have any hope of doing so. Where those teachers do not get paid a respectable wage, who need greater support for civics teaching and who need help reaching a wider audience in their schools, we must address those gaps.
A shout out to those parents who set a similar example for their children by looking after their communities, serving on governing boards of every description, from the homeless shelter to their church’s pantry and beyond. At our best, parents play an essential role in upholding our civic life - by their example and by looking after neighbor, known and stranger.
To the librarians - yes, they are teachers too - who maintain the often threadbare and humble temples of knowledge around our country and keep them open to anyone who would learn about our democracy, or perhaps, just have a warm place to sit for a while.
What I find astonishing is that those who would fight for “freedom” do not seem to understand that a government without laws regularly and systematically denies freedom to its citizens. Perhaps, then, we need to add some comparative instruction in governing systems in the world outside our borders. Comparison shows us that while democracy is not perfect, it remains the best system humans have yet devised to govern themselves in relative peace.
Letters of Recommendation
What teacher has not written innumerable recommendation letters for their students? They need and depend on such letters to help them make the right next step in their lives, and we write them, often in the interstitial moments of an already busy day. In the spirit of that tireless work, going forward this newsletter will offer a personal “Letter of Recommendation” for something to help teachers get through the upcoming week.
Today, that recommendation is for Harney’s Hot Cinnamon Tea. It was on Twitter, thanks to Margaret Hannon, that I discovered Harney & Sons, a tea purveyor in upstate New York. Their cinnamon tea (decaf or caf) is just the thing to help you get through that pile of grading in these dark days of January. A little lemon is a good addition. Add a sweetener if that’s your thing.
I would love to have your recommendation too - subscribe and send it to me and I will include it in a future newsletter.