Several local teachers received awards Thursday to join the handfuls they’ve already earned through the years.
Former Idaho Falls High School teacher Jim Francis, former Blackfoot High School teacher Holly Kartchner and former Skyline High School teachers Lynn MacAusland and Debbie Woodard were each presented the Idaho Falls City Club’s inaugural John D. Hansen Civility Award.
Hansen, who died in January, practiced law in Idaho Falls before serving six terms in the state senate. Described as a “steelheader” for bucking political trends, Hansen is remembered for his ability to work with people from both sides of the aisle.
Thursday’s instructors were awarded because of their ability to apply such civility in their classrooms.
Hansen, who was vice chairman of the Education Commission of the States, said he would’ve been a teacher if not a lawyer and legislator, his wife Michele said Thursday.
“John was a proponent of civility in both his personal and professional life, and I think it’s so appropriate we honored outstanding teachers,” she said. “Wouldn’t you like to be in their classrooms? How much we would learn.”
During his acceptance speech, Francis, who won an Idaho Falls City Council seat in November, defined civility as the confluence of thought and decency. Civility, by extension, is “about advancing the idea of human equality in your messages and actions,” he said.
Francis recalled a classroom exercise when he imitated former Sen. Joseph McCarthy, who fueled widespread fears of Communism through reckless, often unsubstantiated claims.
“I was not being nice to my students,” Francis said. “I threatened their future, their chance for self-fulfillment, their chance for liberty. In my role-play, I doubted their patriotism.”
Tasked with defending herself, one student stepped away from her desk, pulled a copy of the Declaration of Independence from the wall, stood upon her desk and read the document’s second paragraph, which affirms “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights …”
“McCarthyism died in that moment. She stood for civility,” Francis said.
Civility values listening as much as speaking, Kartchner said, referencing the free exchange of ideas featured in the Constitutional Convention of 1787. It means a “great deal more” than being nice to one another, she said.
“It’s complex. It encompasses learning how to connect with others, live well with others, develop thoughtfulness to foster effective self-expression and communication,” Kartchner said.
Civil discourse is lacking in the United States, she lamented, including among youth.
“Young people are not well-equipped to express their views and opinions about difficult issues and topics, or how to respectfully disagree,” she said. “… They need to learn how to listen to learn respectfully to people who have different viewpoints, and to get constructive feedback without fear and intimidation.”
Woodard remembers growing up in a less polarized country.
She joined Idaho Falls High School’s Young Democrats Club, whose members revered Hansen, and his brother, former U.S. Rep. Orval Hansen, both Republicans.
A return to productive discourse and harmony begins at the top, Woodard said.
“I do believe civility is a trickle-down process,” she said. “It has to continue from layer to layer to layer to the teachers and students and their classrooms. I think that’s the only way you fight that tendency of American society to embrace high drama, exaggeration and the ferocious instability we’re watching as we speak.”
MacAusland, who “struggled” with her acceptance speech, read that students focus better when teachers allow them to dress as their favorite superheroes. MacAusland, accordingly, wore to the ceremony a Ruth Bader Ginsburg T-shirt and “dissent collar pin,” in reference to the Supreme Court justice’s bench accoutrements.
Ginsburg and former Justice Antonin Scalia, political opposites, received a prominent national civility award this year for their well-documented friendship away from the bench.
“We all know political polar opposites, whether it’s on social media or in person. We can learn from Ginsburg and Scalia,” MacAusland said. “We may not all enjoy opera, but we can remind ourselves there’s more that unites us than divides us.”
After all, MacAusland said quoting John F. Kennedy, we all inhabit the same planet.
“We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal,” she echoed.
Reporter Kevin Trevellyan can be reached at 208-542-6762.