Friday, March 13, 2015

Utah's Capitol Hill 2015

After a month of examining information about our legislators, following key debates, and understanding how ideas become laws that we have to eventually abide by, twenty-seven of us took a field trip to our state capitol on Wednesday, February 25, 2015. [By the way, adult learners and volunteers from Literacy Action Center have been visiting our state capitol during a legislative session for the past six years.]

Five reasons for going: 

(1) Personal. Learning about one's own legislators - education level, family status, employment, committee work - turns them into real people, "just like me." Watching and listening to the legislators in person makes the process personal. [Note: You, too, can find out who your legislator is by clicking here Utah State Legislature. Scroll to the bottom of the page to the questions: Who represents me? Then enter your address and zip code. When your legislators' photos appear, click on each photo to read more about each person and gain a better understanding of who each one might be from a public, political point of view.]

Representative Craig Hall posing with Ray and Ellen.
(2) Voice. Literacy Action Center is about literacy. Part of literacy is about "voice." Adult learners often think they do not have any voice - especially when we are talking about our own government. One way we engage them in using their voice is to write notes to their legislators - green notes to the Representatives and blue notes to the Senators - about any legislation or other concerns. Writing the notes gives them practice in expressing their thoughts. We send these notes into the chambers when we visit. For the green notes, we specifically wait outside the House for Representatives to come out and talk with us. [No, not all Representatives come out, but we are grateful to those that do. We understand that we are interrupting our legislators while they are working to make our world a better place. The adults who do meet and talk with their legislators however, for even just one-to-two minutes and get a photo, begin to change their minds about "government." Note to Legislators: These few moments are extremely influential in gaining a new or previously reluctant voter.] [For more photos with seven of our Utah Representatives, visit our 2015 Capitol Hill Trip album on our Facebook page. Please "like" and "share" our page, too.]

(3) Actions. Our adult learners, and even our volunteers, often have never been to the state capitol. If they went when they were kids, then they went into each chamber only long enough to have their Representative or Senator give a "shout out" to them in the balcony from the House or Senate floor. When we go, we stay about an hour in each chamber, watching specifically for the different bill readings to hear and see how each type of reading is handled. Our group is fascinated by the difference between the first, second, and third readings. [This year, we heard the Senate's third reading of the Utah health bill as Senators "held their noses" as they cast their votes.]

(4) History. Usually, we do a scavenger-like hunt throughout the building, looking for paintings, signage, artifacts, and art work that answer specific questions. Learners and volunteers explore the building in teams in search of answers. Instead of the "hunt" this year, we took the capitol's guided tour through the Utah State Capitol Visitors Center. [Thank you, Emmylou Manwill, for setting up our tour. Thank you, Steve Crump, for showing us around. Thank you. Shannon Chase (House liaison) and Sheryl Martin (Senate liaison) for trying to get us "meet and greets" with a Representative and Senator.]

(5) Connections. The final reason we take this annual trip to the capitol is about connecting with others. We meet lobbyists. We meet special groups "selling ideas" in the rotunda. We meet legislators. We meet other people from the general public. In this setting, no one knows how much literacy we have or don't have. We blend in and get to see our government at work, just like everyone else.

This year's outcomes:

First, learners were amazed that they can go in on their own any time throughout the legislative session to watch legislators work. And, that legislators will actually talk to them. For example, Representative Eric Hutchings made everyone's day when he took time after his taping in the Supreme Court chamber to chat with us for about fifteen minutes. We were not on his schedule and our adult learner from his district was not with us, but he still answered our questions with
Representative Eric Hutchings and his aide listen attentively.
thoughtfulness and charm. Thank you, Representative Hutchings!

Second, learners found out that they were always welcome at the capitol. One learner even went back two days later to listen to a committee hearing. [Without this trip and meeting Representative Hutchings, this person never would have stepped foot into the capitol building for any reason.] Several other learners have made plans to bring family members both during the final days of this legislative session and in the months to come. The adults in our group want to share their knowledge with others. [Note: We may teach the adults, but these adults use their new-found knowledge to teach friends and family members.]

Third, at least for this legislative session, our learners and volunteers can now picture where and how laws are created. The information presented in newspapers and other media outlets has come alive. The legislative process, at least temporarily, has been exposed.


We are privileged to be located so close to our state capitol that we may have this close engagement with our legislators. As such, we recommend studying about our state government and then integrating this visit into instruction annually as an important educational piece for all adult literacy programs. [Next: We'd like legislators to visit us during other parts of the year to better understand the plight and concerns of constituents who are English-speaking adults with literacy issues,]

Thank you to our volunteers and all the people at the capitol who helped make this trip a success!

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