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The Importance of History Teachers

Learning About Texas Government

I was at the Texas state Capitol building recently for a tour. We sat on the floor of the House of Representatives and learned about the government process. One of the most fascinating things was learning about the vast number of things that are considered when a bill is brought before the house. How will this impact the economy? How will this impact small business owners?

State representatives in Texas get paid a meager $600 a month and if they opt for insurance from the state, then that money is reduced to almost nothing. The house meats every other year and when they are in session they work for 140 days straight – including holidays. They often get to the house floor at 6:30 a.m. and work until 4:00 a.m. Yikes! I am 43 years old and I had no idea that so many people were working so hard to run the state of Texas and making very little money. There are also a number of very low paid staff members that are in their early twenties who are passionate about politics and laws. I reprimanded myself for not being more active and as I sat their and listened to each speaker on our two day visit I realized that a new appreciation was being formed in my heart for politicians and the state of Texas.

Justice Jeff Boyd Texas Supreme CourtTexas Supreme Court Justice Jeff Boyd

During our visit, we got to meet one of the Judges for the Supreme Court of Texas: Justice Jeffrey S. Boyd. We sat there in the court while he explained to us how cases landed before the 9 judges and what the differences were in the Supreme Court and a regular court. One of the main differences is that there is no jury and there is not a witness stand – at least not in the traditional sense. All of the data that has been presented in a court of law has to go through the appellate courts before it gets to the Supreme Court.

We asked Justice Boyd, “Tell us of a case that was interesting and challenging.” He told us of a case where a rescue dog got out of the owner’s backyard during a storm. That night the owner went to the pound and the dog was there, but the owner didn’t have the $25 to retrieve the dog. He told the pound that he would come back in the morning and get the dog. The next day he came to the pound with his two young sons only to find out that the dog had been put to sleep. Yowza!

Apparently the dog had been mislabeled during the night and so the owner sued the dog pound. The case eventually came to the Supreme Court and Justice Boyd said he had to write a report on the case and it came down to a number of facts. In the past, dogs were considered property like a piece of furniture, but we know that in our culture today many people consider pets a member of the family. So how much is a dog worth? How much should someone be compensated when it is killed accidentally?

In this particular case, the dog owner was only given what they paid for the dog: $25. When I first heard this verdict I was internally outraged! Shouldn’t someone be fined for negligence? What if someone hits a dog with a car? Who is at fault then? What if it isn’t a dog that is killed but a cat, or a lizard? All of these things were taken into consideration and in the end the only fair outcome in the judges mind was compensation for what the owners paid.

We then asked the judge what was different between being a lawyer and a judge. He said the main difference is that as an attorney your client gives you the data and you try to get the outcome that they are paying you for. He said that as an attorney you compile data that makes you and the jury believe what you are trying to make them believe.

History Keeps Us from Repeating Mistakes

Have you ever read a good piece of historical fiction? I have read some books by Wilbur Smith and they delve into a lot of African culture. He even has a series on Egypt and in the back of the books he talks about some of the facts being based loosely on real stories found in a tomb. In these books he details so many facts about African culture, the Zulu, the Maasai – fierce warriors who were able to kill lions with nothing more than an Assegai.   In history we can learn where we came from so we don’t repeat the same mistakes. When I read books about World War II and Nazi Germany I am fascinated by the progression of Nazi reign and how hate and fear was used as a tool to control people.

According to an article in Psychology Today, fear is the most powerful motivator, but it is a negative one. If someone tries to use fear to motivate us to do something we know is wrong we can look at history to help us navigate our steps when dealing with a situation that is complicated.

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