Guest column: Will young Americans rescue us from the mess we are leaving?

We can’t properly educate future Idahoans if our state continually hovers near last place in U.S. per-student school expenditures. Idaho is in clear violation of its constitutional responsibility, writes retired state Supreme Court Justice Jim Jones.

Until I stepped into a few classrooms last October, I had the impression that today’s high school kids were just interested in weird music and various types of social media. After visiting classes of Cindy Wilson at Capital High and Sharon Hanson at Boise High, I came away greatly impressed.

The kids were well informed on current affairs, asked relevant questions, and made thoughtful comments. It gave me hope for our country—that perhaps we could get back to debating without trying to shout over one another, that we might be witnessing a generation willing to exercise leadership and common sense to solve seemingly intractable problems. It was not just how the students handled themselves in the classroom, but also what they said in written comments they submitted to these fine teachers afterwards. I received the comments and they are a real treasure.

I spoke to all of Mrs. Wilson’s government classes, leaving plenty of time for interaction with the kids. Questions and comments from the students dealt with every major issue facing the country, including the cost of college, climate change, refugee policy, guns, national debt, net neutrality, political discourse, public service, war, peace, and you name it. A recurring theme was that these issues should be debated back and forth, without rancor, and then be resolved through thoughtful compromise.

Incidentally, since I spoke to her classes, Mrs. Wilson has thrown her hat in the governmental ring and is running for the office of Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction. From what I saw, she would be a good one. I expect she is an inspiration to her students.

I spoke to one of Mrs. Hanson’s classes and had the same experience—smart, well-informed and thoughtful students. She introduced me to the Boise High Humanitarian Club, a large group of socially aware students whose purpose is to make a difference for the good in their community and country. I was so impressed with the Club that I invited its President, Therese Etoka, to help with a speaking engagement I had with a local service club. She was a big hit with the group.

What the experience taught me is that we need to ensure that all schools around the state emphasize the value of civics education so kids can learn how our government works and understand how individuals can and should make a difference. We need to make sure that each school has dedicated teachers like Mrs. Wilson and Mrs. Hanson and that they are valued for the important job they do.

It is incumbent upon the state to adequately fund schools across the state, to provide classrooms that are safe and conducive to learning, and to provide a curriculum that looks to the future, not the past. The Idaho Constitution requires us to provide “a general, uniform and thorough system of public, free common schools.” We can’t do that by continually hovering near last place in the nation in per-student school expenditures. Idaho is in clear violation of its constitutional responsibility.

We have students who are smart, motivated, and willing to work for the betterment of society. The state needs to support and encourage them in every classroom in the state, whether urban or rural, so they can do their part in cleaning up the mess we are leaving them.

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