Education

Reporter’s Notebook

By Michelle R. Davis — September 17, 2004 3 min read
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Party Animals

Andrew Conneen and Daniel P. Larsen could be called convention groupies.

Audio Extras

• Highlighting President Bush’s prime-time speech, the presence of silent protesters, as well as some celebrity sightings, staff writer Michelle Davis files her final report from the GOP convention. (3:28) Windows Media format | MP3 format

•Staff writer Michelle Davis reports on Gov. Schwarzenegger’s appearance at a public elementary school in Harlem, and the upcoming address Thursday evening by President Bush. (2:30) Windows Media format | MP3 format

• Staff writer Sean Cavanagh reports on the convention addresses by Education Secretary Rod Paige and first lady Laura Bush. (3:03) Windows Media format | MP3 format

Education Week staff writer Michelle Davis reports on the education chatter, or lack thereof, at the convention. (2:21) Windows Media format | MP3 format

Education Week staff writer Sean Cavanagh files a report on the weekend buildup to the convention. (3:01) Windows Media format | MP3 format

The two Lincolnshire, Ill., high school teachers showed up at the Republican National Convention here just to check it out and to participate in the political process, despite the fact that they had to play hooky from school to do it.

The dynamic duo are political fanatics who teach a love of the political process to their senior students. Mr. Larsen, who says he is bi-partisan, has been to three conventions now and this week’s is the fourth for Mr. Conneen, a Republican.

These guys aren’t delegates or even alternates to the convention. They’re just two teachers who love the democratic process and are trying to inspire that interest in their students. Think of Deadheads—those devoted fans of the band the Grateful Dead who faithfully trailed the group around the country—in suits and power ties and you’ll get an idea of the passion this pair have for politics.

“The networks continually tell us they (the conventions) are boring and purposeless and not very meaningful, but if you’re a citizen this is where we get to say, ‘This is who we want to be our leader,’” Mr. Larsen said. “What could be more meaningful than that?”

On Aug. 30, the first day of the convention, the two crashed a luncheon at the chi-chi Four Seasons Restaurant intended to allow top National Education Association officials to hobnob with Republican members of Congress. Mr. Larsen said NEA President Reg Weaver invited them to stay for lunch.

Earlier this year, the two chaperoned 40 of their students on a trip to the Iowa caucuses; they have their own political radio show at Adlai E. Stevenson High School (Mr. Weaver is a frequent call-in guest); and use their own time to visit as many conventions as possible. In July, the two NEA members went to Boston to observe the Democratic National Convention.

“For political junkies, it’s part of the triple crown of the electoral season,” Mr. Larsen said.

The pair hopes that their efforts will inspire their students to participate in the political process. By Aug. 31, both will be back in the classroom describing their experiences. They’ll write op-ed pieces and do speaking engagements with teachers across the country about what they do. "[Teachers] all just look at us and say, ‘How do you do this?’ and we just say, ‘Why don’t you?,’” Mr. Larsen said.

They even have a slogan for their efforts: “Citizen U.” And their motto? “We train political animals.”

In a way, they’re providing students with an entrée into politics. Former students of theirs now work for former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright; political talk show host Chris Matthews, and various political publications.

It’s important for teachers to bring politics into the classroom and inspire students, Mr. Conneen said.

“Eighteen-year-olds are not unlike the average American citizen,” he said. “They want to be invited in to the process and we try to give them every opportunity.”

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