By: Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (NJ-11)
Chairman of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee
February 26th, 2016
The education of a Congressman never stops.
Of course, when I am in Washington, I am constantly briefed on all sorts of matters, many of significant national importance – national security, intelligence, terrorist threats and on issues that are New Jersey-specific such as efforts to keep the Port of New York and New Jersey open for business or National Institutes of Health grants for scientific research at our local colleges.
Since being elected to Congress, I have made it a primary mission to reach out to students. Probably more than any other member of Congress, I visit classrooms in all four of the counties in my Congressional District. For example, in one single week recently, I met with students at Whippany High School and Jefferson Middle School in Morris County, Verona High School and Grover Cleveland Middle School in Essex County, Lenape Valley Regional High School in Sussex County and Passaic Valley Regional High School in Passaic County.
I typically visit “upperclassmen,” high school juniors and seniors, and seventh- or eighth-graders. And yes, I do participate in “Read Across America” with Dr. Seuss and make it a point to bring real astronauts and “Hurricane Hunters” to elementary schools across the district. In fact, this month’s “Valentines for Vets” program will focus on elementary school pupils and their support for those who have served our nation in the military.
It is what I enjoy doing most.
I want students to know that members of Congress are “human” and are very passionate about what we do. Regardless of our personal background, members are friends before we are political adversaries and we all believe that public service is honorable, even in a world that has grown increasingly skeptical and cynical.
In the classroom, we talk about issues, large and small, about what is going on in their homeroom, across town or around the globe. The student opinions usually reflect their own frank views. But often, they go out of their way to mention that, on this subject or that, they disagree with their parents or their teachers. They are always passionate and usually very well-informed.
Looking to the future, I always invoke one of the timeless tenets of the League of Women Voters. For years, they reminded their members and the nation at large that “government is not a spectator sport” and in every aspect of their lives government will have a role, maybe positive, perhaps negative, and their participation is a civic duty that will serve their self-interest and that of their family, community and chosen profession.
During every visit I express my wish, no doubt shared by their administrators and teachers, that someone sitting before me will someday be a governor, mayor, town council member, county elected official, state legislator in Trenton, or a member of Congress.
Over the years I have discovered that we all have a great deal to learn listening to the young.
That is why I go back to the classroom as often as I can.