Kate Cruikshank rolled her sleeves up to fight back against a lack of political knowledge in the wake of the 2016 presidential election, organizing a class to educate Bloomington residents on one of America’s founding documents.
Cruikshank, President of the League of Women Voters for Bloomington and Monroe County, said the public has a general lack of understanding of the Constitution became obvious as President Trump took office.
“We’ve realized that, especially when Donald Trump started doing things in a certain way, that we had made assumptions about how government works,” she said. “We were watching him doing things differently and thinking ‘how is it supposed to work?’”
Relying on a generous donation from Bertina Rudman, a 50-year member of the League of Women Voters, Cruikshank reached out to Bob Leming, national director of the We the People Program of the Center for Civic Education. The program works to give the public a basic political education.
Together, the two brought Leming’s new 6-part course on the Constitution to the Monroe County Public Library.
Robert Hall, president of the grassroots conservatives of Bloomington, said Leming was a speaker for the organization last year, and that’s how Cruikshank discovered him.
On Thursday night, the class gathered for its fifth meeting. Each class had a constitutional focus, and this session narrowed in on the Bill of Rights.
Cruikshank said so far the course has reminded its students the Constitution isn’t static, and it could use some tending to.
“We’re all so busy consuming things, playing, having really a pretty good life that we didn’t remember that we needed to be attending to how things are to be governed and how the government is to be kept under control,” she said.
Greetings and excited chatter were exchanged as the room filled with lifelong learners, all present to hear Leming’s lesson.
The class cracked open their We the People textbooks and binders chock full of papers curated by Leming. Some took notes on crisp sheets of paper, others simply sat back in their chairs, heads tilted and hands clasped.
The class was a completely voluntary commitment, and its roughly 35 seats filled up quickly according to Cruikshank.
“I think it’s meaningful that people are giving up six weeks of their time — 12 hours — to learn about the Constitution,” Leming said.
“The people who enrolled in the class have a belief in the Constitution, and I do too,” Pat Patterson, former junior high civics teacher said.
After a brief review of the Constitution, Leming dove into his explanation of the Bill of Rights.
“The English reacted to kings and parliament infringing on their liberties,” Leming said. “Our American tradition has been to restrict the rights of government.”
As the lesson gained momentum, the students called answers out eagerly and interrupted Leming every so often with questions or comments on the topic at hand.
The class fell into a comfortable pattern with people from every political background and with varying reasons for attending all speaking up.
Each time Leming ventured that something should be looked into further after class, the sound of nearly 35 pens clicking filled the room.
“As a naturalized citizen I always envy the American political system,” student Amy Zhen said. Zhen grew up in Taiwan. “I want to know how good the Constitution is. I want to understand it. This is the perfect opportunity for me to understand it. Plus, I see some potential vulnerability in it.”