Teaching Civics The Right Way

A lot of education happens in the minivan.

On the way to Chick-fil-A, for example, the kids were talking and drawing in the back seat and I was listening to the news up front. “2 billion?? Wow, that’s a lot of money,” I said.

“What’s 2 billion?” Gabriella asked.

I explained there’s an election about to take place and so politicians are spending a record amount of money right now to get elected. They spend it on TV commercials and radio ads and those little signs along the road. They hope that when they’re in Congress they’ll be able to fix problems our country has.

“If you were in Congress what would you do to help people?” I asked.

“Give money to poor people,” Gabriella, age nine, said.

“Well, let’s think about this. Why are people poor in our country?” I asked.

“Because they don’t have jobs,” Gresham, age eight, said.

“But why don’t they have jobs?” I asked.

“Because they don’t have a car?” said Gabriella.

“They don’t have a car because they don’t have money,” I explained. “And some people don’t have money because they don’t have a job. But why don’t those people have a job?”

They were stumped.

“If you can’t read and write it’s hard to get any job. And if you don’t graduate from college it’s hard to get the best paying jobs. So what could you do in Congress to help that kind of poor person?” I asked.

In what seemed like an eight year-old boy tangent, Gresham broke the silence. “I would make it illegal to make cigarettes.”


“Cigarettes kill people and they get you addicted and they cost money. Cigarette money could buy books so people could learn and get jobs,” he said.

Then I explained that companies, like cigarette makers, give lots of money to politicians running for Congress. The politicians use that money to make their TV commercials and radio ads and those little signs along the road. If the politicians get elected then they make sure no laws get passed that hurt the companies that gave them money.

“That’s wrong,” Gabriella said.

“Yes, it is,” I said.

Then we went to a food pantry and stocked shelves with cans of beans and soup and cereal. Nothing wrong about that.