- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 28, 2000

In light of the recent election debacle, the entire nation has been focused on some of the core issues of the Constitution. Suddenly, everyone is talking about the Electoral College, the popular vote, and types of ballots and counting. Suddenly, the process of absentee balloting is of great interest. The possibility that the choice of president might have to go to a vote in the House of Representatives has been discussed. It's a great opportunity for the young people of America to get a picture of the Constitution in action.
In our family, the election has been a huge civics lesson. Of course, before the election, we discussed the candidates and the issues of importance to us. On Election Day, my husband and I stood in line for more than an hour, along with our neighbors and friends, to exercise our right to vote.
I later told my children how proud I was of the civic-mindedness of our community, which had come out in great numbers. We discussed how rare it is, even among democratic nations, for the populace to be able to vote for the candidate, rather than for a party that then decides whom to appoint as prime minister. I described to my family my deep feelings of duty about voting. Many brave men and women died to give me the right to vote.
This allowed us to bring in examples of the wars fought to end oppressive and totalitarian government. We talked about World War II and how the countries espousing freedom won. The fact that Germany, Japan and Italy have free elections today is a result of their loss to democratic countries. Had they won the war, dictatorship and oppression in those countries might have continued.
The election night coverage was a super lesson in social studies. Watching the map of the various states and the tallies of the electoral votes helped the children understand population densities and the issues important to the various states. There was ample discussion of the influence of unions, minority populations and historic party affiliations. We flipped among channels and noted the very different results being reported. We were able to compare the projections in each state and, of course, to see the flip-flops that resulted.
Naturally, the children wondered how there could be such differences from state to state. How could one state, or one county, have a system different from the others? This brought out the idea of states' rights vs. federal rights and the original deliberations by the crafters of the Constitution. We could see that America was constructed as an amalgam of smaller autonomous entities thus the United States.
We also noted that the current two-party system is not a constitutional structure, but a system that evolved over time, through several permutations. The smaller parties led by Ralph Nader, Pat Buchanan, et al., have just as much right to participate in the political process as the two major parties, according to our Constitution.
The fact that the absentee ballots are sent by mail and may not arrive until after the election in many cases was new to all of us. It means that the current system assumes the election will be decided primarily by the domestic voters and that Americans overseas do not figure into the voting until we have such a close race that those numbers become significant.
Most schools spend the time leading up to Thanksgiving in a study of the discovery and founding of the United States. This year, we have had a special recapitulation of our history. In a few short weeks, we have had Columbus Day, the presidential election, Veterans Day and Thanksgiving. We have had examples of the power of the vote and of the power of the media. We have been reminded of those who risk their lives serving overseas to protect our nation and others, by the terrorist bombing of the USS Cole.
This has been a rare moment for us to demonstrate what it is that we Americans believe. It is a time for digging deep and finding the core values that impel us. I can't help thinking of past presidencies in which great crises occurred. A president has to be able to confront dire national threats, economic collapses and widespread natural disaster. He must be able to negotiate with the representatives of other nations on very sensitive issues. He must represent the entire population of the country even those who opposed him.
In our family, this situation has brought up the issue of what qualities are needed by a true leader. I tried to give my children an understanding of what a true patriot is. We came up with a simple definition: A patriot is someone who cares more about the good of the country than about what will benefit him or her.
Not only my children, but all children are watching how we act at this difficult time. We are teaching even when we think they aren't paying attention. Will we, the people of America, justify the trust placed in us by the founders of the nation? Will we repay the sacrifice of those who gave their lives for our freedom?
These are the lessons we need to inculcate in our children that our freedom isn't free; that honor, decency and love for one's country are important; and that living in a democracy means having certain privileges but also fulfilling certain duties.
If our children are to be the citizens and leaders of a strong America in the future, we need to educate them now for that goal. Don't let the opportunities slip away to share your deep concerns with your children. What you don't share now can't be remembered later.
We are privileged to home-school because we live in the country we do and we have the freedoms we do. We have a special stake in making sure our children understand all the strengths and weaknesses of our form of government. We are continuing a tradition of independence and responsibility that underlies our national development. I hope the result will be a new generation of patriots, brave, decent, honest and compassionate. If this election has reminded us of that lesson, I am grateful.
Kate Tsubata, a home-schooling mother of three, is a free-lance writer living in Maryland.

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