Happy 4th: our rights and our RESPONSIBILITIES

For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

Galatians 5:1

img_1965First, “Happy Birthday, America!” 239 years old today. Whoo-hoo! I’ve been in this amazing land almost 40 years now, that’s a little more than two-thirds of my life. And I have to say it is a real privilege to live in the USA, especially in the role of citizen (since 1985). But being a citizen is so much more than a privilege, it’s a huge responsibility; and that’s what I’d like to speak to today.

being a citizen is so much more than a privilege, it’s a huge responsibility; and that’s what I’d like to speak to today.

EXCEPTIONAL: I’ll start with a story from my teaching days in Exceptional Student Education. Most of my experience was with SED kids (severely emotionally disturbed), as well as children with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder). But I also worked for one year in a middle school “resource” classroom, populated with young people who were as much unmotivated, socially compromised, and “passed on without learning” as they were “ESE.”

These kids didn’t “get” school, and they didn’t want to “get” school; they weren’t learning, and the didn’t want to learn; nobody really expected them to succeed any more, and they really didn’t seem to care.

I started in early October, hired as an emergency replacement for the 4th or 5th teacher these kids had scared off since school had opened in late August. This put me in a strong position. All I had to do was not give up before Christmas and I’d be a hero. Stay all year and my resume would shine. I had a portable classroom on the edge of campus, a mix of 7th and 8th graders with an average age of over 14, and a room full of trouble. But I also had a phone, a (shared) teaching assistant, and pretty-much carte blanche in terms of approach so long as I didn’t bother the administration.

Derek Maul
Derek Maul

WE KNOW OUR RIGHTS! My classroom management style revolved around posting only a few – essential – rules, but enforcing them absolutely, 100%. I ran a tight ship, but I was consistent and the kids knew exactly where they stood. Just a few weeks in I was publicly challenged by two of the ringleaders. One of them pulled out his student handbook. “We know our rights,” he crowed. “And we demand more freedom.”

“Don’t forget you also have the right to remain silent,” I responded; “and I strongly suggest you exercise that right unless you have something more creative to say.”

Then I pulled out my copy of the student handbook. “You forgot to mention the responsibilities section,” I said. “It happens to be a little bigger than the one on rights. You will never enjoy your rights if you refuse to accept your responsibilities.”

You will never enjoy your rights if you refuse to accept your responsibilities.

We spent the remainder of the day going over the student handbook, and  the rest of the week immersed in interactive study groups. I assigned both written and oral reports based on the content, and the class enjoyed some fairly constructive discussion.

POINT: Here’s the thing about responsibilities: they’re not only critically important to maintaining a free society, they are absolutely necessary for the practice and the enjoyment of our rights as free citizens. Rights without responsibilities are not only empty, they are absent.

Rights without responsibilities are not only empty, they are absent.

IMG_1965Here’s what happened in my classroom: The kids who learned to embrace their responsibilities ended up having a ton more fun than the kids who only wanted to claim their rights. It was a huge lesson in how a free society works. I left that school at the end of the year with the realization that we all take this “liberty” thing way too much for granted; and, in consequence, we’re in danger of losing the very soul of what freedom means.

Let’s not make that mistake – DEREK

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