Training Children to Be Good Citizens

Share Now

As I mentioned recently, I enjoyed listening to adult conversations when I was a child. I was almost ten years old and in the fifth grade at Ashland City Elementary School when my class heard the shocking news that an assassin had shot President John F. Kennedy in Dallas, Texas. For the next few days, I was one of the millions of Americans who watched news stories about his death and funeral.

President Kennedy and his family were superstars in American culture. Even as a child, I knew his name and the name of his wife, Jackie, and the names of their children, Caroline and John. I knew when their infant son Patrick passed away just three months before his father.

Senator John F. Kennedy, his wife, Jacqueline,
and their daughter, Caroline, outside their home
in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, on Election Day, 1960.
Courtesy Library of Congress.

Senator John F. Kennedy and his wife, Jacqueline,
go to the polls to vote on Election Day, 1960.
Courtesy Library of Congress.

President-elect John F. Kennedy, his wife, Jacqueline,
and a nurse carrying their newborn son, John Jr.,
arrive at their home in Georgetown, Washington, D.C.,
on December 9, 1960.
Courtesy Library of Congress.

When President Kennedy died, I remembered something I had heard in an adult conversation. An elderly lady on our street—I’ll call her Miss Fannie—did not like President Kennedy. My child heart wondered, “How does Miss Fannie feel now that President Kennedy has died?”

Miss Fannie’s dislike of President Kennedy is the first experience I can remember of an American not liking someone in government. Of course, since that time, I’ve heard that sentiment or seen that sentiment thousands of times. Our children heard Ray’s and my opinions, pro and con, about office holders, too. One time I realized that we had said entirely too much. After one presidential election, one of our children was frightened because the person who was elected was not the one Ray and I had supported. We had to assure her that we weren’t happy about the election, but that her world wasn’t about to fall apart.

How does God want us to feel about politics and government? What does He want us to teach our children?

I know for certain that God wants us to be respectful.

Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities.
For there is no authority except from God,
and those which exist are established by God.
Romans 13:1

I know for certain that He wants us be good citizens. When God punished the Israelites for their unfaithfulness by sending them into exile in Babylon, He inspired the prophet Jeremiah, who was still in Jerusalem, to send them a letter in Babylon. He wrote:

Build houses and live in them;
and plant gardens and eat their produce. 
Take wives and become the fathers of sons and daughters,
and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands,
that they may bear sons and daughters;
and multiply there and do not decrease. 
Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile,
and pray to the Lord on its behalf;
for in its welfare you will have welfare.
Jeremiah 29:7

A poster encouraging immigrants
to become American citizens, c. 1919.
Courtesy Library of Congress.

Judge Philip Forman gives Albert Einstein
his certificate of American Citizenship, October 1, 1940
Photo by Al Aumuller. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Ray and I have thought about this a great deal. God used politics to bring the two of us together. We met in the political science department at Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) just a few months before Ray graduated. We were interested in politics even when we were children. Both of us campaigned for our favorite candidates when we were in high school, and both of us served as officers of (the same) political party’s campus organization when we were in college. You’ll have to guess which one.
We were both blessed by good history and government teachers in high school and in college. These teachers had a great influence on us. Alvin Rose, my high school American history teacher, was a devout Christian. He let me write my term paper on an aspect of American church history.

Ray and I had early interests in government and politics. Ray read about politics, history, and government for fun while still in high school. In college, he had a weekly column in the campus newspaper, in which he wrote about political and social issues in the news at the time. I had read Ray’s column before we met in the political science department.

I enjoyed many exciting opportunities while still a teenager. As a high school junior, I went to 4-H Congress at the Tennessee state capitol, where we acted as a mock legislature. As a senior, I attended a mock United Nations at Middle Tennessee State University with students from many high schools. Before enrolling at MTSU as a junior, I attended and graduated from Cumberland College in Lebanon, Tennessee, with an associate’s degree. One of the members of its board of directors at the time was Congressman Joe L. Evins, who served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1947 to 1977. I had the opportunity to serve as an intern in his office on Capitol Hill for the month of June in 1972. His office arranged for me to live at the Young Women’s Christian Home two blocks from the U.S. Capitol. At just 18 years old, I spent my evening and weekend hours exploring Washington landmarks alone in the big city—no wonder Daddy cried when I boarded the plane in Nashville.

While homeschooling, we discussed politics with our children, encouraged their involvement in politics, and took them to the Tennessee state capitol and to Washington, D.C. We also arranged for them to spend a day as pages at the Tennessee state capitol.

Today we are among the many Americans who are saddened by much of what we hear about politics. Sentiments like Miss Fannie had in the early 1960s have grown exponentially in our culture. So what is a parent to do? While individuals must decide whether and how to be involved in politics and government based on his or her own conscience which they have educated in God’s Word, I believe that a basic understanding of civics and American government is very important. It is difficult to do as Jeremiah told the Israelites to do—”seek the welfare of the city” where we live—if we don’t have that basic understanding.

I rarely use Daily Encouragement to advertise our curriculum. However, I feel so strongly that the next generation and future generations of Americans need to know the truth about America’s founding principles and ideals that I decided to write about this topic for today. If reports are correct, young Americans know very little about American government and civics. In Hosea God declared:

My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.
Hosea 4:6a

God was talking about knowledge of His ways. However, the same is true in relation to government. If your children need to learn more about American government and civics, an election year is a great time. We have written Exploring Government for high school and Uncle Sam and You for grades 5 through 8. Children in grades 1 through 4 can learn beginning lessons about government in Our 50 States. We designed Uncle Sam and You specifically to cover the election process in detail. Families who begin the course in August or September can easily complete the units on our founding documents, the three levels and three branches of government, our patriotic symbols and American ideals, and the five units on the election process by Election Day in November. Then they spend the rest of the year learning about what elected officials, government workers, and private citizens do in their communities, states, and country.

Honor all people, love the brotherhood,
fear God, honor the king.
1 Peter 2:17

Share Now

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *