I remember my teacher rolling the TV cart into the room and telling my class to simmer down. A few minutes later, with the classroom lights turned down, the TV glowed with images of Ronald Reagan taking the oath of office for the second time. The date was Jan. 20, 1985, and I was in fourth grade, Mrs. Geddes's classroom. There was no debate about turning on the TV (I lived 20 miles away from the Capitol, where the event was happening live — half my class was probably attending the ceremony because their parents worked for the government), no question that we would watch it. It was part of the curriculum for that day.
Though I was only in fourth grade, I remember that the election didn't end the way I wanted it to. My political inclinations were formed early — I was a Mondale-Ferraro supporter, hoping Geraldine Ferraro would be our nation's first female vice president. Little did I know that 32 years later, my dreams of a first for women would be crushed again. But that matter aside, what I remember was that our teacher turned on the TV and had us focus our attention on the swearing-in ceremony because it was a live civics lesson, more real to us than anything we could read in a textbook.
With Donald Trump's inauguration less than 36 hours away, I assumed my children would be watching it in their classrooms too. But you know what they say about assumptions. With more than half the popular vote going to Hillary Clinton and questions lingering about Russia's influence in the election, not to mention a boycott by a group of congresspeople and senators, my Facebook feed is rife with parents suggesting that schools shouldn't be showing the inauguration in their classrooms.
I wholeheartedly disagree. Not only should the inauguration be shown on TVs and smartboards throughout our nation's schools, but it's imperative that it is. Showing the ceremony is not a sign that you support this president or that you believe he justly won. It is a sign that you believe in our democracy. It showcases the peaceful transition of power, the hallmark of American democracy.
As a political science major who has always loved the intricacies of American history (ask my kids about our visit to Colonial Williamsburg last year — they had to drag me out of there), the peaceful transition of power has always been a highlight for me.
Kids need to see that President Barack Obama and President-elect Trump will ride from the White House to the Capitol together with their wives seated by their sides. They need to see that the military doesn't need to intervene to place our nation's new leader in power. They need to see that our elected officials (minus those who are boycotting) come together on the Capitol's balcony every four years. They need to hear Donald Trump take the oath of office and learn what those 35 words represent. This is civics at its best. There is also a civics lesson to be learned in the power of the First Amendment, allowing protesters to speak their minds simultaneously.
One of my favorite explanations about our American democracy comes from that Aaron Sorkin/Michael Douglas classic, The American President.
"America isn't easy. America is advanced citizenship. You've gotta want it bad, 'cause it's gonna put up a fight. It's gonna say, 'You want free speech? Let's see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who's standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours.' You want to claim this land as the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country cannot just be a flag. The symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest. Now show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms.
Then you can stand up and sing about the land of the free."
This election year hasn't been easy on anyone — those who ended up in the winners' column or those who ended up on the other side of history. The conversation didn't end on Nov. 9 and it isn't going to end on Jan. 20. Our children have been exposed to more political mudslinging and rhetoric than ever before. But it's also been a learning experience for them. It's been a chance for our kids to learn that they won't always win, and yes, it sucks. Believe me, I wanted to see Hillary Clinton behind that podium raising her right hand with her left hand on her family Bible more than anything. But she's not. And they need to see what happens next.
I'm still waiting to hear back from kids' teachers about their plans for tomorrow. But I can tell you this. I'll be watching at noon. And if the kids tell me they didn't watch it in their classrooms, they'll be watching with me on Friday night. I'm setting my DVR and already have a few books picked out that explain midterm elections.