The paradox of democracy is this: those who don’t have it fight tooth and nail to get it while those who have it watch football.
I realize this statement is hyperbolic, but I wanted to make a point. On President’s Day, I began thinking about the tremendous impact political freedom has on our lives, and I realized that this thought may not have occurred to many of my compatriots. President’s Day is a time to honor the achievements of our most distinguished citizens, but it is also a time to celebrate the democratic process that wrote these men into our collective history. We live in a country that embraces civic engagement. We have the right to vote. We have the right to assemble in protest of our government. We have the right to write and say what we want, regardless of political affiliation. While these freedoms are rights guaranteed by our Constitution, we need to think of them as privileges too often taken for granted.
Less than two thirds of eligible voters cast ballots in the 2008 presidential election. Fewer of us write letters to our representatives or even to the editors our local newspapers. Democracy may be alive and well in this country, but it is only alive for the people who choose to participate.
As a teacher, I would be remiss if I didn’t teach my students that their voices matter. An education is a powerful thing to waste on apathy and disillusionment. What good is having an informed opinion it if it is never expressed? While many of my students will not be able to vote in this next election, there is nothing preventing them from engaging in political discourse right now. In the age of blogging and Facebook and Twitter, we all have a presence online. Why not use that presence to effect positive change? Instead of tweeting about what we had for breakfast, why don’t we tweet about what really matters to us?
Because the best way to teach citizenship is to do citizenship, I am inviting my students and your students across the country to write letters to President Obama about the issues they care most about. On March 15 students will engage in a national day of civic action by posting their letters to a website I have created called Dear Mr. President. Mailing letters to the White House is an option, but students have a better chance of winning an audience by publishing their views online. Furthermore, they can use social media to send letters out to their social network. Who knows? If we get enough people to participate, they just might get a response from the White House. What could send the message that democracy works more powerfully than a word from the president himself?
Please visit Dear Mr. President at www.dmpstudent.blogspot.com for more information on how to participate. For updates on the letter-writing campaign and links to published student letters, follow @DMPStudent on Twitter. To help spread the word about the project, tag your tweets with #dearmrpresident and #studentvoice.
Thank you for your dedication to creating powerful authentic learning experiences for students.
Kelly Dillon is a high school English teacher in Saint Louis, Missouri.