Last week a bunch of families from our church organized a tour of the Tennessee Capitol. While many state homeschooling organizations have annual rallies at their respective Capitols, it can also be helpful to show up more regularly, and to spend time with elected officials in smaller groups. Developing real relationships with legislators takes one-on-one time, but provides good opportunities to offer input and hold our representatives accountable.
We were able to do the usual field-trip stuff around Legislative Plaza, but we also got to talk to Senators and Congressmen, folks from the Comptroller’s office who tried to explain what our tax money was doing, and the Director of Non-Public and Home Schools. The highlight of the day was hearing from Rep. Mark Pody, who proposed the Natural Marriage Defense Act, but I think everyone had the most fun during our mock legislative session.
Our group was able to fill almost every desk on the House floor, and thanks to the assistance of the helpful clerks, we were able to use the mics for procedure and the buttons and board for voting. Since we didn’t have much time, we jumped straight into consideration of two fake bills, presented by a couple of sneaky devil’s advocates planted in the unsuspecting crowd…
Since we wanted to get all the parents and young children involved in the debate, these bills started simple and gradually got more complex (just like real legislation!). We began with the Goldilocks Bill, which laid out regulatory controls for furniture that was too soft or too hard, and pantry inspections to make sure that food would be “just right.” As we had hoped, small kids were able to engage in the basic discussions about limited jurisdictions even as teens and parents spun the debate into areas concerning fiscal notes, community health, and the Fourth Amendment. While James was a bit young to understand or reach the voting buttons this time, we plan to continue going to the Capitol as he grows up, and soon he’ll be participating too!
Isaac has coached several types of mock legislatures, and they are always a fun way to learn about the process, to discuss issues, and practice critical thinking. That being said, it’s easy to focus too much on the external presentation and style of arguments rather than principles and the underlying understanding of arguments. We highly recommend setting up model governments as teaching tools for kids, as long as they don’t become just a game.
Another highlight of the day was getting to collaborate with siblings as well as friends from church and community. These five did a great job writing, presenting, and debating the fake bills, and I enjoyed getting to see some Botkin family humor and political satire sneaking into the process. Even the clerks were cracking up at a few of the finer points of the debate.
In the future, our group will be discussing some more complex bills than last week’s children’s fable fare, and we’re planning on making this a more regular event. Feel free to get in touch with us if you’d like to participate in a future trip, or organize your own events.