Former senator guides students through government

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 29, 2012

LAUREN WOOD/THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — State Sen. Kelvin Butler, right, speaks to former state Sen. Bob Dearing’s American government class at Co-Lin’s Natchez campus.

NATCHEZ — Any civics and government teacher can give detailed lessons on the U.S. Constitution, Electoral College or how a bill becomes a law, but few have helped create legislation that has become law.

That’s not the case with Copiah-Lincoln Community College’s American national government instructor this semester since he spent 32 years as a Mississippi state senator.

Bob Dearing is dusting off his classroom skills and helping the words in his students’ textbook, “Government By The People,” come to life.

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The class focuses on the structure of the American governmental system and stresses the importance of the individual’s role in politics.

Dearing was a teacher in the local school system and principal from 1958 until 1965.

LAUREN WOOD/THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Former state Sen. Bob Dearing addresses his American government class after state Sen. Kelvin Butler, left, spoke to the class recently at Co-Lin’s Natchez campus.

“It’s been a great relearning experience for me,” he said. “I’m just excited to be back in the classroom.”

Dearing said he hopes by the end of the semester his students have gained a good understanding of the Constitution and how local, state and national government works.

His first-hand knowledge is something Dearing tries to sprinkle in with the class lessons.

“If a topic comes up, and I can interject my thoughts and experience, I do, and the students seem to really perk up,” he said.

Pate Dillard, who has a bit of a governmental connection himself since his father is Natchez Alderman Dan Dillard, is in Dearing’s class this semester and said Dearing’s stories are one of his favorite parts of the class.

“To every subject, he has a story from personal experience from his time in the state Senate,” Dillard said. “He is really good at connecting what happens on a state level to people in Adams County and making us realize how what happens affects us on a local level.”

Co-Lin Vice President Teresa Busby said she asked Dearing to teach the class because of his extensive experience in government.

“He obviously has a firm handle on American national government and how it operates, and I thought it would be a honor for our students to have someone with real life experience in government in the classroom,” she said.

But Dearing won’t be the only one with experience as an elected official in the classroom this semester. Dearing has employed senators, state representatives, congressmen and local officials as guest speakers for the class.

Rep. Sam Mims, R-McComb, will speak to the class on Sept. 11, and Natchez Mayor Butch Brown has also committed to be a guest speaker.

“I think it is a good opportunity for the students to meet their legislators,” Dearing said. “I doubt if anyone in my class has ever met a state senator or representative, and I’m sure very few of them have ever met (Brown).”

State Sen. Kelvin Butler, D-Magnolia, spoke to the class last week and urged the students to listen carefully to Dearing’s lessons.

LAUREN WOOD/THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Pate Dillard asks a question to State Sen. Kelvin Butler after Butler spoke to the American government class at Co-Lin’s Natchez campus.

“He taught me a lot,” Butler said. “When I was elected, he had been there a long time, and I’ve only been around for nine years, so I learned a lot from him,” Butler said.

Butler talked to the students about his specific role as a state senator and took questions from students about his time as a senator.

Butler encouraged the students to continue their education and stressed the importance of staying informed.

“Sitting before me is the next generation of Mississippi leaders,” Butler said.

Dillard said Dearing challenges the students every day to know their officials from the state level down to a local level.

“He really wants us to know who’s who and pay close attention to what they do because it matters to us,” Dillard said.

The students, Dearing said, were quizzed the first day of class on elected officials from the president down to city government.

“It really amazed me that so few of them knew who their elected officials were,” Dearing said.

With the presidential election coming up in November, Dearing is stressing the importance of taking part in the democratic process.

“I have chosen my candidate, and I want you to choose yours,” Dearing told the class. “I won’t tell who I am voting for because that is not important, it is only important that you be informed and vote for the candidate you think will do the best job.”

Dearing asked the class to pay close attention to the election in the coming months.

“There’s going to be a lot of rhetoric, and you’re going to have to sift through it to get the facts,” Dearing said.

The class will write a topic paper after the election, Dearing said, on the candidates and their campaigns.

“What I’m trying to do is make them more aware of their government and encourage them to be involved,” Dearing said. “It is so important that they see how their government affects them and that they need to be involved,” Dearing said.