Sunday, September 18, 2005

Constitution Day

Rarely will you see me agree with Senator Sam Byrd (D - WV) but his views regarding the US Constitution and the desperate need to educate Americans on the document are right on the mark. (Indianapolis Star: Constitution quiz). Few Americans have actually read the document. Fewer still have a copy of it. Yet the Constitution is the foundation behind our culture, our laws, and our way of life. Every member of our armed forces has taken an oath to "defend, honor, and preserve the Constitution of the United States." How many of them have ever read that document, the ideals of which they are sworn to protect?

Ironically, the bill introduced by Byrd - and which subsequently passed - is most likely unconstitutional. The federal government has no constitutional authority to enforce any educational program since that right is explicitly reserved for the states. Byrd, a devout constitutionalist, was certainly aware of this when he proposed legislation mandating that lessons on the Constitution be provided in every school each September 17th.

Is it time, however, to amend the Constitution and permit a federal agenda for education? I think it is, at least so far as to set minimum standards for a curriculum at each level. Leaving it to the states has not proven successful as American students fall further and further behind their foreign counterparts in math and science.

There are certain subjects that should be mandated at the federal level. The average immigrant seeking US citizenship has a better working knowledge of the Constitution, US laws, and US history than most people that have lived in the US all their lives. Very few people can tell you the actual causes of the American Revolution. Fewer still know the real reasons behind the Civil War. "Manifest Destiny" is a term foreign to almost every American, and most would think "54-40 or Fight" talks about a high scoring football game.

It was George Santayana who said, "Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it." George Bernard Shaw was perhaps even more accurate when he stated, "We learn from history that we learn nothing from history." How true both of those quotations are when we consider events facing us around the globe. In my post on Hurricane Katrina reconstruction, I referenced Lyndon Johnson and his "Great Society" speech. How many Americans understood that reference? Very few, I would wager, yet it's most applicable some 40 years later. So I congratulate Senator Byrd for his legislation to support education initiatives on the Constitution. But don't leave it at that. Take this opportunity to improve the understanding of all Americans with regards to our history, our heritage, and those events that shape where, what, and who we are today.

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1 comment :

Alan Fraser said...

Well argued but you'll first need to provide at least one example of something the Federal government has done right and you'll be very hard pressed to find it.