If you attended high school in Spencer between the years of 1969 and 1992, you probably didn't get through your freshman year without a little time with Nellie "Nell" Alderman. The fiery pastor's daughter from North Dakota taught civics, and her classroom lessons took students to the 13 Colonies and back.
Mrs. Alderman retired after 23 year of teaching and lived 90 great years, I'd like to think. She passed away just over two years ago.
She wasn't mean by any stretch of the imagination, but she also didn't suffer those newly-minted high schoolers who weren't paying attention. I remember her slamming a textbook down on her desk one day and yelling the answer "Massachusetts!" in the tone of voice reserved for a revival. Today, that clap of thunder might be frowned upon, but it worked. We paid attention.
She encouraged students to participate in society through a variety of choices like military service, community service, running for public office and — yes — voting. Especially that. I suspect a pretty high percentage of Spencer graduates from that era, wherever they are in life, are registered for the 2020 election.
At the risk of making an assumption about a person I didn't encounter regularly over the most recent three decades, I think Mrs. Alderman would have a love-hate relationship with the current national voting campaign.
She'd love the emphasis, but I also think she might be disappointed that such a massive get-out-the-vote effort is even necessary.
Should it take NBA star Steph Curry or actors like Bradley Cooper and Kerry Washington to, at long last, get Americans to fill out our voting paperwork?
Should it take unpopular national leaders or a closely-divided Senate from a single election cycle to "I suppose" our way to a voting precinct or auditor's office? To a mailbox? Mrs. Alderman attended three universities to stand in front of a rotation of teenagers day-in-day-out for 23 years in rural northwest Iowa … and some of us (or our kids) need to take our cues from Ariana Grande?
"Massachusetts!" We haven't been paying attention.
Voting is far more difficult in densely populated areas, certainly. We hear about pockets of shenanigans and voting should be easier than it is. It's also fair to say that Americans who have to be brow-beaten during commercial breaks to "show up, show up, for heaven's sake show up" probably missed out on a well-deserved textbook thud from my old civics teacher. She'd expect you to navigate democracy's hallways and get in the door before the bell rang.