Civics 101

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Usually, the students at Homewood High School’s Business Law class are the ones listening and asking. But the roles were reversed recently when freshman 7th District Congressman Artur Davis, along with a couple of prominent local attorneys, came equipped with foreign policy questions of their own…”What is it that y’all think alienates other countries about American culture, what is it that causes other countries to react negatively to our culture?””I just think that they, like, they’re jealous of the rights that we have. We’re not under a bunch of strict rules, we’re not told what to do.”

It was the students’ chance to toss back some ideas and opinions to Davis, who along with Attorneys Maibeth Porter and Thomas Wells, facilitated the American Bar Association’s Dialogue on Freedom series. It’s the first time the forum’s played out in Alabama. Wells says the dialogue reminds him of those old civics and current events classes from high school days past.

“The whole idea of this is not to shape opinion, it’s to get people, particularly high school students, thinking.”

Dialogue on Freedom was designed by Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy after the September 11 terrorist attacks to offer students a chance to talk about the responsibilities they have or will have as adults.

To help fire up the discussion, there’s a hypothetical scenario presented: an impoverished country, a corrupt government and a charismatic, very popular leader who preaches religion, yet proclaims hate toward the United States. It’s not hard to guess the political and socio-economic parallels of this land of make believe: Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden and the issue of terrorism or Iraq and whether it is cooperating with weapons inspectors.

They are issues that 17-year old Andrelea Kosner is increasingly becoming interested in. She admits to not saying much during the hypothetical discussion, but is increasingly aware of her real power at the ballot box.

“And now I’m taking voting very seriously. I want my opinion, like, for me to be able to tell what I think about a situation and that sort of stuff.”

While Andrelea and all the students agreed that the United States is the leading country in the world, there were some differing opinions about the responsibilities that leadership should or should NOT entail.

During the forum, one student had this comment:

“I most definitely think that the United States is like this amazingly massive country. We have all this power, but I really don’t think that gives us any right to go and tell a country that’s not any of our business how they should run their government. That doesn’t give us the right because, although, we’re a strong country, we’re not the Earth police.

But Seth Garvin disagrees.

“We turned our back when Hitler was slaughtering innocent Jews and we really didn’t get the full effect until we went over there and fought.”

The 18-year old senior compares Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi regime to that of the Third Reich before World War II.

“I think history could be repeating itself. But I also think that we can learn from the past also, and not have this happen again. And go in there and take away weapons from a very sinister dictator.”

Even if that means war, he says. A war in which some fellow students might fight. Matthew Yarborough just joined the Army. He says that’s his way of participating in the process.

“I mean, that’s putting my life on the line for my country. This does directly affect us if Saddam does have weapons of mass destruction, then we need to go ahead and take care of it before it affects us in a negative way.”

Congressman Artur Davis says it came as no surprise to him that the students were so engaged in the forum. He says he’d like to see more of that kind of involvement from the students, and from his peers.

“I think our political leaders ought to spend more time talking to our young people and spend more time in the community having community forums.”