Friday was an important day for the eighth grade students at the middle school where I teach eighth grade English.
The eighth grade teachers arranged a day that began with student debates on whether the electoral college should be retained or the president elected by direct popular vote and continued with a number of guest speakers brought in to help the teenagers understand the political process.
The speakers ranged from a retired union leader to a state representative who has sponsored right-to-work legislation. The half-hour breakout sessions also included a longtime TV anchorman who is making his first try at elective office at age 59 to two high school students who have spent the last several months volunteering for a candidate for statewide office.
The media was also represented by a veteran reporter from a local television station and by a 20-year-old college student whose political blog is a must-read in the Show-Me State.
The students heard from Democrats and Republicans and had the opportunity to watch them interact in a positive way.
Sadly, the day came to a close and the four hours of civility were a thing of the past.
It does not have to be that way. As my eighth graders and I reflected on our election unit Monday, I was asked about the presidential election and this was the message I delivered to my students:
If Barack Obama is re-elected president, no matter what some of you have been told at home or have heard on television or seen on the internet, it will not be the end of civilization as we know it.
If Mitt Romney is the one who receives the majority of the electoral votes Tuesday, the nation will not collapse.
Those things have been said about every presidential candidate since this country began and we are still here and will be here for a long time to come.
And no matter what you have heard, this is not the most important election we have ever had, at least it's not the only "most important election we have ever had." We had one in 2008, 2004, 2000, 1996, in fact, every four years for as long as I can remember.
I am willing to bet that the 2016 election will be "the most important election we have ever had," and that the same thing will be said in 2020 and 2024. It is comforting that we always look on the presidential election as an event of that magnitude.
I have heard students, usually parroting their parents, talk about how evil Barack Obama or Mitt Romney are and how they are just running to ruin our country. Sorry, but that is not how the system works.
In my 56 years on this planet, I have never seen a political candidate whose platform was to get elected and do the most damage he could do. Whether the candidates were Republicans or Democrats, or representatives of some third party, I have never seen anyone who did not genuinely want to improve the lot of their constituents.
Their methods of how to accomplish that differ, sometimes dramatically, and at times they are led astray by mistaken policies or by listening to the siren songs of people whose motives are not so pure, but all of them strive to be the best public servants they can be.
What makes this country great is that the final decision on who runs our government is not made at the point of a gun, but in the sanctity of a voting booth. For all of the flaws in our system, and there are many, it is that truth that has made our nation one of the most remarkable political experiments in history and one that will keep it vital and energetic far into the future.