Saturday, December 5, 2009
RETIREES SPREAD CIVIC EDUCATION
Carol and Bill Hatcher spent decades in Kern County schools, rising to the top of their careers in education. When Bill retired in 2004, he was superintendent of the Kern High School District, based in Bakersfield in California's southern San Joaquin Valley. When Carol retired a year earlier, she, too, had been a school district superintendent, before moving to the Kern County Superintendent of Schools Office, where she coordinated the history and social studies curriculum.
After toiling away in local classrooms and dealing with the pressures of school administration, Carol and Bill were entitled to enjoy a “good life” retirement that included plenty of international travel to exotic destinations.
And that’s exactly what they have. But their idea of travel is not what most retirees have in mind. It’s certainly not what cruise lines and tour companies describe in their promotional brochures.
Their destinations include war-torn and third world nations. Their hotels aren’t “five star.” In fact, most might not even qualify for one star.
“My sister thinks we’re nuts,” said Bill, acknowledging the Hatchers’ retirement focus might seem odd to many people. “She doesn’t understand why we go to unsafe countries; why we don’t go to spas.”
Bill and Carol Hatcher are spending their retirement years spreading democracy and encouraging emerging nations to foster “civic involvement.”
“We retired, but we will never retire from civic education,” Bill said during a recent interview.
Bill is on the board of the Center for Civic Education, which is funded primarily by federal grants. Carol coordinates the center’s international programs that focus on Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Ghana. As part of the center’s international program, the couple has traveled to the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, the Philippine Islands, Mexico, Argentina, Morocco, Jordan, South Africa, Ghana, Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Their travel – often requiring repeat visits to dangerous, emerging nations – is at the countries’ request. Their work in-country focuses on teaching teachers how to teach civic involvement.
As an example of their work, consider the Hatchers’ trip to the Philippine Islands, where they found a culture strong in extended family ties, but weak in civic involvement. A team from the center, which included the Hatchers, was invited to teach teachers how to get students involved in solving problems for the country’s “greater good.”
The Philippine Islands has a strong educational system, Bill explained. But there is government corruption. Unless people look beyond their extended families, the nation’s problems and corruption will not be addressed.
After the fighting ended in Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Hatchers and a team of educators from the center were invited to the region.
“Teachers there never had to teach civics,” Carol recalled, noting that “where kids were once taught how to handle a rifle, teachers were now expected to teach kids how to live in a democracy, how to live with compromise.”
The center’s team of educators worked with the region’s teachers to develop a curriculum to instill an understanding of how a democracy works and how citizens can become involved in their government.
“Citizenship and civic education are more than just hanging a poster on a classroom wall,” said Bill, explaining the need to develop an educational program to build understanding and inspire young people to become involved in their governments to solve national problems.
Similarly Bill was invited by the King of Morocco as part of a multi-country team of educators to incorporate democratic principles in the North African nation’s monarchy and elevate the status of women. Cultural sensitivity was required to craft recommendations for this predominantly Muslim nation.
“We take for granted what we have here at home,” said Carol. “It is humbling to go to a country where the people want to learn about our democracy. They are working so hard to obtain what we have.”
The Hatchers have long been involved in bringing democratic principles to life.
Through their classroom experiences – Carol’s mostly involving local elementary school children and Bill’s involving Kern’s high school students – the Hatchers learned about the Los Angeles-based Center for Civic Education and its U.S. programs.
People may be more familiar with the center’s “We the People” program, which tests high school students’ knowledge of the U.S. Constitution and how it applies to solving practical problems and controversies.
Teams of students from Kern County high schools have repeatedly won this difficult annual competition. The success can be credited to dedicated students, educators and community volunteers who spend countless hours every year preparing teams for the competition.
“I was impressed by how the program changed kids’ lives,” Bill said, explaining that even as a school administrator he spent hours helping prepare student teams. As a retiree, he now is advising his granddaughter’s “We the People” team at Bakersfield's Centennial High School, where Bill once was the principal.
Whether a student is Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative, he or she realizes through the “We the People” program how the Constitution will affect and protect their lives, said Bill.
Carol recalled her days in the 1960s as a high school student in Indiana, where social studies was confined to “book learning.” The subject was dry and seemed to have little application to students’ lives.
“This program applies social studies and the Constitution to students’ lives,” she said. “It is much more meaningful.”
Through her involvement in the center’s international programs, Carol has arranged a teleconference between Foothill High School students in Bakersfield and their counterparts in Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina. On another occasion, she linked up Bakersfield third graders with elementary school students in Sarajevo. The students compared notes and were amazed by the differences in the everyday challenges they face.
“We have met some of the most interesting people in the world,” Bill said. “Our experiences have been heartwarming. We believe we are making a difference.”
Carol choked back emotion as she recalled an early visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina in the mid-1990s. The guns had just been silenced by a fragile peace accord. A government official thanked her for helping and told her: “Nationalism has filled our graves. Democracy has filled our souls.”
This story written by DIANNE HARDISTY first appeared in The Bakersfield Californian on Dec. 6, 2009.