LENOX — Tenth- and eleventh-grade classes at Lenox Memorial Middle and High School received a lesson in government and current events with a timely visit from U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Massachusetts.
On the morning of Friday, Jan. 17, Neal walked into three classrooms and delivered remarks on his strong value on education and the ongoing impeachment procedures happening in the nation’s capital. Neal previously taught government and history at Cathedral High School in Springfield and he still holds a faculty position at the University of Massachusetts.
“One of the statistics I’m most proud of is during my time as mayor of Springfield, I was also chairman of the school committee,” Neal said. “With 33,000 children who were in public and private schools during those years, I visited every classroom.”
Neal took questions from students and highlighted the importance of the House’s impeachment of President Donald Trump. Just two days prior to Neal visiting classrooms in Lenox, members of the House carried the formal articles of impeachment against Trump to the Senate.
“This is a pretty tumultuous time in our history,” Neal said. “If you proceed from 1868 to 1999 and now to 2020, there have only been three impeachment proceedings, actually four, but President Nixon resigned so it was not finalized. I hope you had a chance to see Justice [John] Roberts being escorted into the United States Senate, after the Articles of Impeachment had been delivered.”
Neal said that he was part of the formation of those articles of impeachment and how they were constructed, including participating in the ceremony with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi of the signing of the documents.
Neal also stressed the importance of distinguishing facts and opinions in a time where information is so widely available.
Each morning, Neal picks up his eight local and regional newspapers from a 7-Eleven and he pores through them, he said. He added that for both local and national stories, it was important that he understands how people who disagree with you, come to their conclusions.
After surveying a class of about 25 students on if they still read newspapers, to which a few hands were raised, Neal said that the Berkshires was particularly fortunate for the media coverage it has in the area.
“I think your ability to gather information is more instant than it was for me,” Neal told the 11th-grade classroom. “I think we need to understand the difference between opinion and fact. I think that the way you gather news, for example, is largely through your phone.”
When asked what inspired him to get into politics, Neal cited his mother’s continuous campaigning efforts, and one particular day when she kept him home from school to see President John. F. Kennedy on the campaign trail.
“My mother was always campaigning for somebody. There was always someone in the neighborhood that was running for something,” Neal said. “But then there was this moment in 1960, the day before the election. Jack Kennedy made two final stops in Springfield and Boston.”
About 24 hours after Kennedy’s stop in Springfield, he was President-elect, Neal said.
“Being in that crowd that day … I never forgot the inspiration of idealism, you want to be part of something,” he said. “I think that singularly might have been the moment, but at the same time, I always had an interest in politics from that age. I have friends that will say I told them I wanted to be Mayor in sixth grade.”
On the same day, eighth-graders participated in the annual Career Fair, taking advantage of more than 30 local businesses visiting their school for one-on-one conversations about prospective careers.