This week, with the death of Cokie Roberts, as I teach a diverse group of 7th graders about colonial society, I am reminded again how very much representation matters. Roberts, a long-standing political reporter and commentator, was an enduring part of my world. I listened to her on NPR and watched her on ABC news. She always brought attention to women, especially women leaders, and gave me an abiding sense that women could matter in the political world.
If that belief was ever tentative (and I don’t think it was), these days it’s foremost in my mind. I raised a son who learned to value and enjoy women’s sports and I am proud that at the age of 19 he considers himself a feminist and an advocate for women. I teach in diverse classes with 12 and 13 year old girls and boys; the girls coming of age in a society that regulates their bodies and is prone to underestimating their brains. These years are formative and in my class I emphasize the empowerment of women. I do this for the benefit of all of the students and I search for the examples of representation that show the truth of my words.
But for all of these efforts, it’s examples and representation that matters. When we open our textbook and look at the picture of delegates to the Continental Congress as they contemplate declaring their independence, we mark who is missing. We read Abbigail Adams’ letters to her husband, present at that meeting and prepared to ignore his wife’s request that he and his peers remember the ladies. We don't forget the ladies.
I remind them all that someone must go first for the rest of us to follow. I show them the Americans who made room for others and I emphasize the power of that small change. And over and over again I remind them that representation matters. Cokie Robert's passing is a loss for all of us. I will always remember her with gratitude for the way she always showed me the enormous power of representation.