By Corinne Wnek
When I was growing up, I don’t ever remember a time when I thought politics was interesting. Sure, there were interesting politicians who were known for things other than how they governed, like a golf game or a mistress. I do remember being in the seventh grade with Sr. Theresa, a history aficionado, who could rattle off dates and events from any place in the world and make a squirrely twelve year old understand historical connections between then and now.
Sr. Theresa was a great teacher because she understood that her class would probably forget half of the facts she taught to us, that educators back then thought students needed to learn. She saw the big picture before others realized there was one. She told us we would always be able to find information if we knew where to look for it and that later on we would come to see how politics affects our lives. Just not in the seventh grade.
But there was one question this teacher asked the class to think about, and about which she warned there might not be a consensus of opinion. That question was, “What is the difference between a statesman and a politician?” This lady was way ahead of her time in understanding that critical thinking skills were more at the heart of learning than simply recalling factual information.
Now, as an adult, I realize that Sr. Theresa’s prediction about the impact of politics on our lives has come true. But I still wonder about that ‘statesman vs. politician’ question. This is especially relevant today as our country moves into election mode. Now more than ever a public figure’s character and past behaviors enter into the decision making equation about whether that individual is fit to hold office and lead.
But were there not more than a few shady characters who served their country well two hundred years ago? Or even just fifty years ago? Would we call effective politicians like Bill Clinton, Ted Kennedy or even Chris Christie ‘statesman’? Or might Winston Churchill, the tested British leader who had more than his share of idiosyncrasies, be a more fitting example of ‘statesman’. Where would Hillary or Margaret Thatcher fit in?
After all these years, I’m still trying to figure out how Sr. Theresa would have answered that question.
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