Published Friday, April 21, 2006 in East Valley Opinions of the Arizona Republic as “March gives kids lesson in civics, life”
On Monday, April 10, my wife and I did what any responsible parent concerned about learning, civic engagement, and immigration reform would have done if their schedule allowed it. We pulled our kids who are in third, fourth and fifth grade from school to participate in the largest march and rally in the history of Arizona.
Civic virtue is a value we all hold dear. One of the original arguments for schooling in America was to prepare literate, engaged citizens. The more education you have, the more likely you’ll be involved with some form of civic engagement. Getting young people involved and making them feel they have both a stake in our political system and that our political system responds to their voice are critical pieces to invigorating the next generation.
To further active citizenship, lawmakers have mandated that children say the Pledge of Allegiance to start the school day. For fourth through sixth grade, they mandate they also state part of the Declaration of Independence. This year if HB2583 becomes law a domestic-made United States flag at least two by three feet will be placed in every classroom, including state universities. All well-intended, but saying, “all men are created equal” (my fourth grade daughter I’m proud to report feels “men” should be replaced with “people”) and “liberty and justice for all,” means little until it’s translated into real life experience.
So when students seek to take action for social justice, we should be thrilled and offer guidance and encouragement. Instead, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne was calling for schools to be locked down and for firing teachers who let students leave class to march for immigration reform. By contrast, Carl Hayden High School’s principal told students stay in school, and he would march with them to the capitol afterwards. I told my students they could earn extra credit by documenting their attendance and writing a 300-word reflection–a standing opportunity in my class that applies to any political event. Teachers across the East Valley should be dropping their regular curricular plans to explore experiences, causes, consequences, and feelings regarding immigration today as well as one hundred years ago when we also had a huge increase in immigration.
In the march we saw thousands of people: a dad pulling his two youngsters in a wagon, moms pushing strollers, high school and college students leading cheers, all memories that for my children may last a lifetime.
After walking nearly three miles we reached the state capitol, where upon my kids spotted a vendor. They asked if they could each purchase flags, Mexican flags. After agreeing, I asked each why they wanted the flag, and answers ranged from having another country’s flag (their school is full of other country’s flags) to recognizing the importance of diversity. When I mentioned that some people have proposed putting those here illegally in jail, my youngest daughter replied angrily that they are people, too, and that’s not right.
When we explored the issue further that in some families the children are U.S. citizens but the parents came here illegally, they grew even more concerned about children being left behind and losing parents.
When I asked my children whether one can be a Mexican and an American, my oldest declared you don’t forget where you come from, which reminded me of a shirt we had seen during the march which displayed Mexican and U.S. Flags with the words “Estamos Unidos” (We Are United).
Dave Wells of Tempe holds a doctorate in Political Economy and Public Policy and teaches at Arizona State University. Reach him at Dave@MakeDemocracyWork.org.Sources:Declaration of Independence and Pledge of Allegiance were mandated as part of SB1216 in 2000.
Stay in class during protests, schools urge
Horne calls for lockdown to stop immigration walkout by Karina Bland and JJ Hensley
The Arizona Republic
Apr. 6, 2006 12:00 AM
Carl Hayden High School Principal’s actions reported to me indirectly by someone (a senior citizen) who had gone out to support the High School students smaller march from Indian School Park on April 10.