Reading about the nuances of the commerce clause in the Constitution would normally serve as a surefire cure for insomnia for the whole family.
However the recent debates raging over President Obama’s health care law have taken the snores out of civics by tossing a much-loathed cruciferous vegetable into the ring.
During our routine newspaper-reading binge at the breakfast table last week, we stumbled upon a picture of a man standing outside of the Supreme Court building with a handmade sign proclaiming, “I Hate Broccoli.” I asked my oldest son to read the sign out loud for his brothers — which he did with gusto.
My boys couldn’t stop laughing. They had found a kindred broccoli-hating spirit who was doing what they could only dream of doing — formally protesting (and being recognized for it with a picture in the paper) the act of consuming a veggie that induces retching at its very mention.
Once the laughing finally subsided, the curiosity (theirs and mine) set in. What was that guy doing standing in front of the Supreme Court building protesting such a fine source of roughage?
I knew I wouldn’t need to get into the gory details about the constitutionality of the president’s health care proposal in order to give an adequate explanation about the workings of government to my children.
My kids may never be interested in actively learning about government processes again, so I knew I couldn’t let this fastball right up the middle make it to the catcher’s glove. This was my “homerun” moment — governmental gory details could not become snory details.
They say if a person wishes to learn something, he should teach it. Just as I started explaining the roots of this whole broccoli flap, I realized how embarrassingly deficient my own memories of the inner-workings of government were.
Luckily, Mr. Pear, my 9th grade government teacher, taught us rather catchy ditties to help us pass the now-defunct Maryland civics exam.
Almost all of our class chants have been cast away from my brain with the rest of the “bad high school memories” detritus, but one stuck that I was able to pass along to my kids: LML-EEL-JIL, LML-EEL-JIL. Legislative makes the laws, executive enforces laws, judicial interprets laws. LML-EEL-JIL.
Separation of powers is a simple starting point, and it ties in nicely with an explanation of the Constitution as the official blueprint that George Washington, et al. (kids typically learn about Washington since he gives teachers an excuse to do arts-and-crafts before his holiday in February) drew up to guide our nation.
Besides my quick sojourn to Nerd Land to explain the etymology of “democracy” (from the Greek demos, people, and kratia, rule), I kept the civics lesson easy: the broccoli debate boils down to how much power people think our government should have — in essence, can the government force us to buy broccoli?
If the commerce clause were ever interpreted to mandate broccoli-buying, I think my kids would teach themselves their first lesson in civil disobedience.