Connecting with Congressman Anthony Brown
On Thursday our Grade 3/4 students got to visit with Congressman Anthony Brown who shared insights from his work in government. His talk offered a real-life connection to the topics students have been exploring in their classes this semester.
When asked what he likes best about his job, he replied, “What I really like most is when I get to spend time with my constituents like this.”
set up the meeting with the congressman she explained the context for her request in this way:
Our classes began this year with an Individuals in Community Unit and moved into our US Democracy Unit. They began by exploring how our identities shape who we are, how we are received, and how we care for each other. We then transitioned into our US Democracy unit from the perspective of community care. Students considered how different forms of governance meet or do not meet the needs of community members, and then learned deeply about each branch. A Supreme Court clerk visiting our class explained checks and balances through the metaphor of "rock, paper scissors" - each branch can "cover" another to keep power in check.
We did our deepest dive into the legislative branch. Students took on the roles of Congresspeople, writing bills in small groups and presenting them to their peers. We simulated the voting process, each student voting "yea" or "nay" on each bill. Classroom teachers had veto power, and students had to check the "constitutionality" of bills against the class contract that we had written at the beginning of the year. From Congressman Brown, students would be eager to hear an insider perspective on law making: where ideas come from, how Congress members collaborate to get bills passed, and what it is like when bills pass or do not pass.
Congressman Brown talked with the students about the process he follows to turn a bill into law and how various committees work and the functions they fill.
He offered a particularly interesting explanation for why congressional leaders are given equal portions of their state’s population to represent. “There are 435 members in Congress. Let’s just say that I only represent 10 people and another person represents a million people. The 10 people I represent will get a lot more of my time and attention and they’ll have a lot more ability to influence my decision-making than the other representative who has to respond to the needs of a million people. Imagine how hard it would be for that million people to get their phone calls answered! That really wouldn’t be fair. So the Founders said, let’s make sure every representative has an equal amount of constituents so every voter has the same opportunity to talk with their representative about their issues and their concerns.”
The explanation made it even more special that Congressman Brown made time to visit with us. He said he represents 800,000 people in his district!
The congressman’s parting advice to students was very much in line with our Quaker values. “I hope that one day each of you thinks about how you want to be of service in your communities and how you can make your community better, how you can not only take care of your family but also take care of your neighbors. There are so many ways to do that . . . but if you are going to run for office, keep in mind that the reason why we do this is because we want to be in service to other people.”