Recently, the great Commonwealth of Virginia has decided to make some serious changes to their licensure requirements that directly impact me as a teacher. Okay, this is actually not new news, because I feel like changes come about on a yearly basis from the Commonwealth. This change more precisely impacts me as a government teacher: I have to show the state that I fully grasp the complexities that make up what is Virginia government. You know what? Good for them. Maybe I should. After all, I was born and raised in Ohio... Virginia's rival for the claim to home to the most Presidents. (A hotly contested debate, no doubt. Oh, who would have guessed that William Henry Harrison would complicate this debate.)
So, when my employer asked me if I wanted to go on an excursion to learn more about my adopted home, I immediately took up the charge. FIELD TRIP! Let's learn more about the western hemisphere's oldest legislature in continuous operation! (est 1619) Let's learn more about one of the first bicameral legislatures in the new world (The House of Burgesses, circa 1643 thanks to Sir William Blakeley), or how the radical actions of George Mason moved to separate the powers of each branch by removing the governor from the judicial branch AND the legislature, thereby establishing the Senate. So, great... Massachusetts can keep the claim to the oldest Constitution in the world (1780), it's not the oldest settlement thanks to Jamestown. Maryland can keep the oldest state capitol, Virginia is not far behind. And, besides... scenes from the movie Lincoln were shot there. It's just that cool.
Besides the superfluous trivia above, what did I get from this trip?
Appreciation for our federal system. I have never lived in a state capitol, and when I was younger I connected government not to Columbus or Richmond... but to DC. Perhaps this is a tribute to where I grew up, and when I grew up... in a time in which national politics and government actions received far more debate and discussion. Like my students of today, I missed the fact that the state and local government is present in a much more frequent and tangible way than the federal government. I did not stop to think of the schools I attended, the fire and police that protected my city; the maintaining of roads in my neighborhoods; the zoning of land to build new strip malls and homes; the park system that employed me for seven long years and provided me a retirement account at age 16; the regulation of businesses that sustained my community's economy; the courts that punished bad people, helped marry my parents and later myself, and grant us title to the homes we lived in; the DMV that so elegantly froze time while I waited to get my driver's license.
And now, they are my employer.
Here are some of my favorite resources from the day, in no particular order.
1. Chamber Presentation: Interested teachers can request a tour of the State Capitol, and also have their students sit in a chamber and role play as members of that chamber. Our tour guide, Mark Greenough, said the students may even get to push the voting buttons. Maybe. I can't wait to explain to kids what the yellow (abstaining to vote) button means, and when it is used.
2. Page program: Members who press the blue button get a page brought to them. Yes, real live young adults who apply to be a part of the page program. They are there through the scheduled session. There is an application process, so start eyeing the nearest 13 year old in your life.
3. Civics education: There are many opportunities for students to immerse themselves in civics... from the Governor's school to We The People, and even on to a Capitol Semester for college aged students, there is plenty to do. It just takes the right teacher to put this together.
Additional Virginia Resources
There is more, way more, than this. Let me tell you about some of the other offerings from the rest of the Commonwealth that may interest you. Please note: This is not a complete listing.
Look, seriously. I haven't even scratched the surface on resources in and around the Commonwealth. But here are a very very select few that have some relation to teaching civics. Do you have more to add? Message me below, let's start a dialogue!
And get your self and your students out of your classroom and engaged in the civic fortresses of our great Commonwealth!
Photo via Flickr/Ted Eytan