Tester bill a good lesson in democratic process

The Bozeman Daily Chronicle

by Sally Broughton and Deanna Collins

As teachers, we are helping to develop our young students into citizens who are engaged, informed, and active participants in our democracy. The dual purpose of public school is not only to prepare our young people for the workplace, but also to prepare them for citizenship. One way students in social studies classes can participate in active citizenship, for example, is by investigating their communities for a problem that can be solved by public policy, searching for solutions, creating and proposing a public policy, and then following a plan to have that policy passed. They are learning, in short, how to craft public policy to make their communities better places to live, work, and learn. Students often learn best in a hands-on experiential environment where they can make their own discoveries, exploring the objects and phenomenon to be investigated, discussing their observations, testing their new ideas, and finding solutions.

The Forest Jobs and Restoration Act   proposed by Sen. John Tester is a perfect example of how citizens with diverse opinions worked together to reach a consensus to solve problems in our state. The public policy process that made this solution consensus possible has parallels to the processes we study in ecology, which is the science concerned with the relationship of living things to each other and their natural environment. Students learn about how living things depend on each other. It is important for them to focus on the relationships they can see and to develop the idea of interdependence. Humans are a part of the ecological chain.

In the natural world, as in the political world/public policy world, everyone has to give and take a little bit in order for the system to completely work. Partnerships pay off for all involved. And that is the beauty of the Tester legislation. We saw what happened over the years, when each facet of the public held firmly to individual   and opposing ideas — totally rejecting the stances of others. Nothing was solved. The Forest Jobs and Recreation Act, the product of the same kind of give and take our students study in ecology, proposes a new, better way that works for the whole ecosystem, in this case, our community. Logging beetle-infested trees, for example, will produce wood products and jobs. Reforestation will then occur, providing wildlife habitat and finally, revitalization of watersheds for healthy streams and clean water, benefitting our health and our outdoor traditions.

We applaud the efforts of the various interests in timber and conservation who had the foresight and integrity to give a little in order to work toward a solution that will be for the better good of all. What a beautiful example of the democratic process at work, and a great model for our students who are learning about the value of civic engagement.

As educators, we understand the importance   of protecting some of our wild icons as places where young people can get out and learn about the natural world. As members of the community, we understand the need to help struggling families draw paychecks that will support them here, and as parents, we understand the need to pass down our outdoor traditions like fishing and hunting to our children — and theirs.

We look forward as Montana citizens to enjoying a future for ourselves, for our children and our students, and our grandchildren protected by “a common sense bill that will create jobs in Montana’s forests, keep communities safe, protect clean water and safeguard Montana’s hunting and fishing habitat for future generations.” We commend Tester for reaching out to so many diverse interests and constituencies to find common ground and for his commitment to a made-in-Montana solution that will work for everyone who loves our forests.

Sally Brougton, 2009 Montana Teacher of the Year, is a 6-8 grade social studies teacher at Monforton School in Bozeman. Deanna Collins, State Science Teacher Finalist, teaches 4th grade science at Monforton.