Students learn value of citizenship

Published 10:40 am Thursday, December 18, 2008

Superintendent Joseph E. Brown, Sr. wants to graduate “citizen scholars” from the Grand Meadow Independent School District, young men and women who know the value of citizenship and public service.

That’s why he invited politicos such as Congressman Tim Walz to speak to the Super Larks student body.

Walz, who represents the 1st District, is a former Mankato high school teacher and coach, who also served in the Minnesota National Guard.

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Al Franken’s daughter visited Grand Meadow High School last fall to campaign for her father’s U.S. Senate bid.

“We’ve had Republicans here too,” Brown said. “People like state Sen. Dick Day and state Rep. Randy Demmer. We try to be fair to both parties whenever we can.”

Brown’s wife, state Rep. Robin Brown, could also be a guest speaker.

Brown himself, a former Iowa state senator, could say a few words about citizenship and public service, too.

“The point is our students are citizen scholars, and I want to expose them to as much of government as I can,” he said.

If the superintendent sounds like a man on a mission, he is.

“There are three reasons I like to invite politicians to see our school,” he said. “One is that it is a unique school: a concrete monolithic-domed school, the only one in the entire state.

“The second reasons is that I want to lobby our state legislators to return a share of wind energy profits to local school districts who need it the most,” he said.

The third reason is personal.

“At every opportunity since 1968, I’ve tried to introduce young people to political service and government in action,” he said. “That was the year I passed up the opportunity to see Bobby Kennedy.”

Forty years ago, Brown was a teenager in southeastern Iowa when then New York Sen. Bobby Kennedy was running for the presidency.

“I was a high school student at my hometown of Clinton Iowa,” Brown said. “Bobby had just won the Indiana primary and gave that wonderful speech in Indianapolis that night Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated.

“The next day, he got on his campaign train and gave to Davenport, Iowa and I passed up the opportunity to go there and hear him speak,” Brown said.

There would be no other opportunity to do that after Kennedy was assassinated later that spring in a Los Angeles hotel kitchen.

“I’ve met every other presidential candidate , every U.S. Senate and Congressional candidate, but Bobby,” Brown said.

When the 2008 Obama-McCain political campaigns were at their peak, so was Brown, encouraging students, who would be eligible, to register to vote.

“We actually had several 18-year-olds vote in the 2008 election and that was great to see,” he said.

When Nov. 4’s historic results were known, the Grand Meadow district’s American government teacher and head wrestling coach Bill Simpkins imparted more knowledge upon his students.

Meanwhile, Brown, through his legislator wife Robin, invited Paul Thissen to visit the school district .

State Rep. Thissen, an attorney, was elected to the Minnesota House in 2002 and is currently serving his third term representing District 63A. His fourth term begins next month.

Just one week after the Nov. 4 general election, the DFLer announced he was running for Minnesota governor in 2010, when Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s current term expires.

“Minnesota faces serious challenges ahead. We all know that,” he said in November. “We must meet those challenges the way Minnesota always has: with innovative leadership that offers fresh solutions and new ways of doing things.

“That kind of openness to innovation and fresh thinking will be a central part of my campaign,” he added.

“It was good for the students, and it was good for the state representative,” Brown said. “This is the kind of exposure I want the students to have: to see and hear from somebody holding public office and serving the public. They can learn a lot from that experience.

“Most of all, they can learn first-hand how government works,” he said. “You can’t force a kid to be involved in politics, but you can encourage them.”

And what did Thissen think of his visit to Grand Meadow?

“I had a great time at Grand Meadow,” he said. “The knowledge and sophistication of the students’ questions was really impressive.

“Public service is everyone’s responsibility,” he went on to say. “Politics and public service is hard work, but work well worth it because it is about building our communities, taking responsibility for ourselves and the common good and taking care of each other in time of need.

And each of us do that in our own way. I do tell students that elective politics specifically is a noble pursuit as long as policy-makers place people at the heart of policy-making.

It is messy and often full of compromise, but we generally move in the right direction over the long haul.

“It is plain to me that nearly every lawmaker I have met in St. Paul — whether or not I agree with them on policy or principles — is there for the same general reason which is serving the people of Minnesota as best they know how,” he said.