What to Understand About Citizenship

A fellow columnist in LoudounNow wrote a few weeks ago a fantastic article on the values of using this year’s rather disturbing Presidential race as a tool for teaching the values of citizenship. Allow me to expand on the idea introduced in the first paragraph about George Washington’s example, because I believe it is an important one.

Washington was an example in many ways. He comported himself professionally his entire life, and was a successful military leader. He also, though, was an accomplished surveyor and map maker. When Washington began his career as a County surveyor for Culpeper County, it is doubtful he ever would have predicted that he would be the head of the Continental Army, that the colonies would be an independent and united country, and that he would be its first President.


He went about his life without that understanding or ambition, and as most Americans at the time, considered himself, at least in a way, a citizen of the British Commonwealth. He chose something he was good at and gained a deep understanding of it— surveying and cartography— and there is every indication that it was that depth of knowledge which made him such an asset as a young lieutenant in the fledgling Virginia Regiment during the French and Indian War.

He chose a career, comported himself well, took on a leadership role, and served his country where he was needed using the skills he had developed. It was only after those successes that he was looked upon as a leader, first of the Continental Army, and then of the first Administration of Article II of the Constitution.

There was no Presidency for George Washington to aspire to as a young lieutenant. Today there is. Every Governor, Senator, and even Representative seems to, at least occasionally, toy with the idea of one day attaining that highest office, which now is an exceedingly powerful position, not just here in the U.S., but of course, the entire “free world.”

We probably should not, for the purposes of this writing get too much into whether the Executive Branch of the Federal Government, the Presidency, or any particular bearer of the title has taken on entirely too much power. We should, however, in Mr. Sran’s spirit of teaching critical thinking to our youth, put some of these questions to the students:

How influential should a President be? What does the “bully pulpit” mean and why is it important? Does the President make the laws? Wouldn’t it be simpler and easier if he did? Or are there risks there? What does Congress do? How has their role changed over the years? Do you think Congress has a harder, or easier job now than they did nearly 230 years ago? Why or why not?

More importantly, though, what young citizens should understand is that the first step in being a good citizen is to be a productive one. The first step to being a “leader of men” is to strive to be the best one can be at something. A great goal is to create, build, and innovate in a way which can make an impact, preferably in a way which pays well enough to support a family. Further students should learn that engagement with their communities, fellow professionals, families, parishioners, and community members is every bit as important than engaging with government. And it is in this spirit that engagement with government should occur. So that when you engage as a citizen, you are not engaging to get something from the people, but to help the people make the right decisions for the people.

If the next generation of citizens see citizenship as a role simply for bureaucrats, rent-seekers, issue-advocates, power seekers, and ambitious men and women, instead of simply another facet of our professional lives as employees or employers, then we will continue to get the type of shameless self-promotion and entitlement mentality in all aspects of the public sphere, but especially the election process.

Butch Porter is the Co-Founder of IndED Academies, which has a running after-school course on “What it Means to Be a Citizen,” Tuesdays and Thursdays at the Learning Library in Downtown Leesburg, VA. Among the ideas explored in the course are government, communication skills, and entrepreneurship. The classes are for ages 8 to 11 and you can sign up for a single class, or a pack of 6.

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