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Good Citizen

I hate littering. I still remember the jingle Oklahoma had when I was a kid which discouraged littering- “don’t lay that trash on Oklahoma!” I took the jingle to heart, as I know many people my age did because of that catchy tune. In my eyes, one who litters is not being a good citizen, plain and simple.

During these times of sincere unrest all around the world, and divisive politics within our own, I’ve been trying to find places where I can encourage good citizenship among the people with whom I come in contact. Looking back on my teaching career, I know I could have done more to support those efforts. Civics is a required course in Putnam City, but it shouldn’t happen in isolation. Maybe there’s a way to encourage all teachers to have discussions, lessons and activities that encourage citizenship in one way or another.

My concern about the lack of citizenship- and let me digress a bit here, I’m not talking about patriotism. That’s something different. Patriotism should encourage you to be a good citizen, but plenty of people are justifiably proud of this nation without being good citizens. So my concern about the lack of citizenship was increased when I read an article that said 90% of U.S. students didn’t pass the NAEP Civics Assessment. The article concluded that this was because students were not immersed in civics activities like discussions of current issues, visiting a local city council meeting, or role playing a senate debate. Just like most subjects, you can read about them in a book and memorize facts, but until you actually put the subjects into practical terms, they just won’t stick with people of any age.

I felt less bad about myself upon concluding the article because my students definitely did get to debate issues of today and role play debates of the past. But I could do more, and I will. Oklahoma is now yet another state that has schools involved with Generation Citizen, a nonprofit whose mission is to “empower young people to become engaged and effective citizens.” Though we aren’t doing this in Putnam City yet, I love the spirit of the program, which matches college students with social studies students to articulate a problem of importance to the students, and then work to find out how they can be a part of solving it. They are expected to write letters to representatives, create informative presentations, or gather expert information on their chosen topic.

Some people might not see things the way I do, but I think being a litter bug is a sign of being a bad citizen. I see people throw cigarette butts out of their windows frequently, and it always shocks me. Why would you have so little regard for the shared spaces in our town? But then maybe these people don’t feel connected to these shared spaces, they don’t feel the collective spirit of community that would prevent them from throwing trash on their own yard.

If people aren’t learning good citizenship at home, they must learn it in school, and they must have an opportunity to practice citizenship in a practical way. Our nation is in crisis in part because we don’t feel a strong connection- a responsibility- to those around us. Good citizenship fosters the public good, so when you see it use the hashtag #GoodCitizen and see if we can get on the road to being whole again.

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