As a former English teacher and, more importantly, as the mother of three sons who received a good education at an inner city public high school, I am reluctant to throw stones at the educational system. Enough folks are doing that anyway. But I must confess that I am appalled by…
As a former English teacher and, more importantly, as the mother of three sons who received a good education at an inner city public high school, I am reluctant to throw stones at the educational system. Enough folks are doing that anyway. But I must confess that I am appalled by the number of people I meet on a regular basis who have little or no knowledge of American history or government. A few examples:
In the late 1960’s, IUPUI’s Political Science Department sent students out to
Monument Circle with clipboards containing a "Petition to the Government."
Beneath that heading was the Bill of Rights. 64% of the people who read
the Bill of Rights to the United States Constitution identified it as
"some sort of communist propaganda" and felt that it expressed dangerous
and "subversive" ideas. Recently, the ICLU sent a single student with the
same "Petition" to a local mall. Out of 32 people who stopped and read the
Bill of Rights, only one recognized it!
A recent editorial from a community in northern Indiana was decrying
rampant individualism. To bolster the argument that we should all be
concerned for our communities, the writer stated "America was founded on
the notion that the good of the many outweighed the rights of the few." Such
an assertion sets history on its head: the fundamental premise of the Bill of
Rights was that individuals have inalienable rights that may not be denied
either by government or by the majority of the citizenry. That is why we have
elaborate safeguards to ensure that before the community can deprive an
individual of those rights, he must be afforded due process of the law.
Seldom does a week pass without a letter to the Editor asserting that the
doctrine of the separation of church and state does not appear in the First
Amendment. The writer invariably cites the text of the Amendment as "proof’
– displaying no familiarity with the proceedings of the Constitutional
convention that produced that language, the contemporaneous utterances
of those who wrote it, the Federalist papers, or the fact that the Supreme
Court many years ago ruled that the Fourteenth Amendment made the
provisions of the Bill of Rights applicable to the states.
By far the most depressing evidence that we are raising a generation which
is ignorant of its own heritage is the prevalence of the notion that in America
the "majority" rules. While it is absolutely true that the majority rules with
respect to many issues, it is equally true that the majority cannot vote to
overrule the fundamental rights protected by the Bill of Rights. Your
neighbors cannot get together and vote to make you a Presbyterian or a
Baptist; your community cannot vote to restrict what books you read, what
movies you see or what music you enjoy. The government cannot decide
tomorrow that the right to a trial by jury is too expensive and must be
abolished. Our legal system protects these rights whether the majority
agrees with them or not. Our founding fathers refused to ratify the
Constitution unless these safeguards against the ‘tyranny of the majority"
There will always be debate about how the Bill of Rights applies in this or that situation. Such debates can be healthy and productive, but only if we are all beginning with a fundamental knowledge of our own history. I know that we ask a lot of our schools these days – but surely, educating citizens about their history and common heritage is of fundamental importance.
We simply must do better.