I had the honor of accompanying my wife’s 8th grade class at St. Rose School to Lincoln on a citizenship field trip. Students were treated to a planetarium show at Morrill Hall, and tours of Memorial Stadium, the Capitol and the Governor’s Mansion, along with a quick, but necessary stop at the East Campus Dairy Store. They thoroughly enjoyed all of these activities.
At our school, 8th graders have been traveling to Lincoln for 44 years for this kind of trip. With today’s easy travels, most of the students have been to Lincoln before, to state athletic tournaments, on family trips or to Husker games. Some parents over the years have voiced an opinion that a trip to Lincoln for these 8th graders is nothing special.
I beg to differ. Over the years that I have accompanied my wife and her classes, there are always unplanned surprises that take place that make the trip very special. One year, then-Governor Johanns walked through the group and greeted them. They have met our state’s First Lady before, and even Snickers, the Heinemann’s First Puppy. Over the years, Husker student-athletes and coaches have visited with our students by chance. Each trip is unique in some way that we couldn’t plan if we tried.
This most recent trip, in particular, was that way. We hadn’t planned to visit the Unicameral in session, because we normally make the trip on a day when the Legislature is in recess. As long as we’ve been taking students to Lincoln, we’ve never had the opportunity to see the Legislature in action. This time, by chance, the schedule worked. Our students had the opportunity to visit with our state senator, Tyson Larson of O’Neill, and most importantly, were able to see Senator Larson on the floor of the Unicameral, commenting on a bill being considered.
On the floor for debate was Senator Sue Crawford’s bill, LB429, which would require the state to provide access to contract information of state funds. This bill impacts all citizens across the state, providing better transparency on the use of our taxpayer dollars. We sat in the historic legislative gallery, and heard debate on a bill. We listened to our senators, our elected representatives, discuss and debate, question and consider action, on our behalf.
Although the students may not have completely understood the debate, they were impressed I think, about how the system works. The experience placed their years of government coursework into perspective, so they understood just a bit how government works.
To top it off, our little group, and several other FFA groups that happened to be in the gallery at the same time, were recognized by hometown and school by the senators. It was a great lesson in government, and one that all rural students should take advantage of if given the opportunity. As our rural voice shrinks in the Unicameral, and on the national stage as well, we will need well-informed citizens living and working on our farms and ranches and in our rural communities. We need citizens who not only understand government, but are willing to be engaged in policy. Maybe the recent visit to the Unicameral planted a few of those seeds of citizenship in the minds of our 8th graders.
Here is this week’s multiple choice discussion question for you. How have you been engaged in local and state government? Let us know how you’ve been engaged in our government’s role in our lives.
1) I’ve been elected to public office, i.e. township board, school board, NRD board, public utilities commission etc.
2) I’ve attended local public hearings and commented on policy issues.
3) I’ve attended a public meeting.
4) I’ve called or written my state senator, U.S. Senator or Congressman on a particular issue.
5) I’ve testified before Congress or in a state public hearing.
6) I remember Government class in high school, kind of.
7) A combination of the above.
Be sure to watch Nebraska Farmer online and read our current April print issue of Nebraska Farmer for news, information and tips on meeting the challenges of drought. Your best online resource for drought information is the Farm Progress drought site at Dateline Drought. And watch this blog the last Friday of the month for my new “Field Editor’s Report” featuring the positive stories about the families who raise our food. Pass it on!