Bringing it Home: At Aspen High, shutdown presents learning opportunity |

Bringing it Home: At Aspen High, shutdown presents learning opportunity

Michael McLaughlin
The Aspen Times
Aspen High School civics teacher Karen Green holds a book about the U.S. Constitution she uses with her classes. Green has been helping her students grasp some of the reasons for the current Federal shutdown.
Leigh Vogel/The Aspen Times |

The current federal government shutdowns are affecting the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in the United States. Aspen is not immune from the shutdowns, and each day the political impasse continues, the more the effects spread locally.

Karen Green teaches social studies at Aspen High School. She’s currently instructing classes in civics and International Baccalaureate history and has become quite popular with her current — and former — students.

“I’m getting asked a lot of questions this week,” Green said. “I make it a point to teach my students to watch and read the news in a ‘real way.’ I want them to get acclimated to what the news means to them and understand what’s going on around them. What’s happening now isn’t easy to interpret. A lot of students didn’t realize our government could shut down.”

Green has received messages from former students now in college asking for her interpretation. It’s a compliment to Green that her former students are looking to her for an explanation, but she tells most of them the same thing: They need to figure this out for themselves.

“I don’t expect a high school junior or senior to come up with their own political synopsis yet,” Green said. “But I will by the end of this semester, or at least that’s my goal. This is some complex political partisanship. A lot of my students are worried because they’re feeling some of the reverberations, but they don’t know what all this means to them. The longer this shutdown lasts, the more they’re realizing how connected they are to the federal government.”

Aspen senior Ben Belinski, 18, said he was confused when the shutdown began.

“I had no idea what all this meant,” Belinski said. “I was kind of scared and did some quick research. The more I read, the more I realized what a big deal this really is.”

Belinski also began to see the effects first-hand.

“I have a brother in the Air Force and he was affected,” Belinski said. “I saw what happened to our middle school students and how they couldn’t get into Moab for their field trip. I knew then that this issue needed to be fixed. It also made me understand how important it is to stay informed.”

Staying informed is a lesson Green has been preaching to all her students. Even as students quiz her on what the federal closures really mean, Green has to be careful about voicing her opinions.

As a civics teacher, she doesn’t see any advantage to being partisan herself. Her goal is to help explain the roles that different political parties play within a democracy. One thing the current issues do offer is an opportunity to show her students first-hand just how the role that extremism in political parties can have on the legislative process.

Aspen senior Kelcie Gerson, 17, said having a teacher like Green gives a lot of students a better grasp on what’s happening with our government right now.

“For most students, we’ve never experienced anything like this before,” Gerson said. “I think most of us take a stable government for granted. Now I understand why George Washington was against a bipartisan political system. Having two parties is enough of a struggle, especially when they can’t work out their differences for the good of our nation. Maybe this is a wake-up call that something needs to be done about bipartisanship.”

Green said she doesn’t encourage her students to get caught up in a blame game with the current federal closures. Instead, she asks her students why they think conservatives dislike the Affordable Care Act and why some liberals support it.

She wants them to see the importance of federalism in their lives.

“We might be Westerners,” Green said. “But we’re very much connected to Washington, D.C., and the decisions that Congress and our president make.”

Erik Phillips, 17, is a senior at Aspen High and thinks if the government shutdown continues, the trickle-down effect will hit home with a lot of people.

“These shutdowns are having different effects,” Phillips said. “We just had a national security issue Thursday in Washington, D.C. If people are starting to freak out now, just think if this continues until Oct. 17. Congress has to get this resolved sooner rather than later.”

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