In 1967 my public school announced that Civics would be dropped from my eighth-grade curriculum. I guess they thought the history class lessons about Caligula and Hitler would inoculate us against tyranny. Too bad; they were wrong.

History looks backward. Civics looks forward, preparing adolescents for one of their important adult titles: citizen. Civics teaches the basic requirements for civil discourse, respect for one’s opponent, how to construct an argument, a rebuttal. How to persuade, how not to be persuaded. How and why we vote, pay taxes, obey laws, respect civil servants.

The insurrection of Jan. 6, has made it crystal clear to me that the dark tendencies of human nature have the potential to poison our ability to be citizens of a democracy. We need to study how to discuss difficult subjects, like reparations, anti-semitism, white privilege, and unconscious bias. We struggle to even begin these conversations because we don’t know how to disagree with civility and respect. But the next generations won’t wait for us to wise up.

My Black and Brown buddies (you know who you are) are cherished in my heart. But our love of individuals must propagate outward to include all people who are different from me. If we start from an open mind, we can hammer out solutions.

We float on a sea of ideas. Money is one of these ideas: it works only when we all believe in it. Freedom is an idea, as is democracy. They have no corporeal body — they exist only in the minds of those who share them. 

We all love our freedom, oh boy do we. We’ll paint our chest and wear funny hats in public because we have this idea that freedom means we can do anything. In fact, Freedom is only freedom when we understand its limits, and when our actions infringe on the rights of others.

We need Civics back in public school, and more speech, rhetoric and debate. Parents of school-age children need to demand this. My generation is too far gone, lost in a sea of hippie selfishness. But my 30-something children will not tolerate the shortcomings of Boomers for long.

Fasten your seatbelts; let’s hope it’s a very bumpy ride.

Karen Muriello

Deputy Village Clerk of Oak Park, 2006-2010

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