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TEACH CITIZENSHIP IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS
By Hans Zeiger
June 24, 2003
Noah Webster, the guy who wrote the dictionary, was of the opinion that the American education system should be structured to train students in citizenship. An early pioneer of public education, Webster said the purpose of a public school is to "discipline our youth early in life in sound maxims of moral, political and religious duties."
Today, moral and political duties are secondary concerns in most public schools, and religious duties are considered either obsolete or dangerous. Religion in school is a debate unto itself, but moral and political education deserves a serious discussion.
Both morality and politics are grounded in certain absolutes. When it comes to morality, a student should know it is immoral to cheat on a test or lie to a teacher. On the subject of politics, high-school graduates should be aware, at minimum, that rights come from God, that government is vested in the people and that political liberty requires political responsibility.
In Kennewick, Washington, a citizen activist named Monte Benham discovered that too many high-school graduates are oblivious to the key tenets of citizenship that are derived from such documents as the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights and the Washington State Constitution.
So Benham launched Initiative 285 in April to require all public schools in the state to teach portions of our founding documents.
I-285 requires the teaching of those phrases that concern the philosophical underpinnings of America. Such as the Declaration of Independence, which identifies the source of rights: "All men are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." And how many high-school graduates around America are aware that their state even has a constitution?
Article 1 of the Washington state constitution says, "All political power is inherent in the people, and governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, and are established to protect and maintain individual rights." The consistent messages of America's great leaders and texts are inescapable in our history. All fifty state constitutions recognize God as the source of rights, and individuals as the agent of rights.
I-285 requires the teaching of state and national founding documents in such a way that they are linked to one another and their historical context as well as other creeds and codes like the Mayflower Compact, the Pledge of Allegiance, George Washington's Farewell Address and the Gettysburg Address.
The role of rights and responsibilities, the purpose of government, the idea of freedom and its contrasts in tyranny and slavery — these are the core understandings that are necessary to good citizenship.
No doubt the truths I've just named would anger those whose political beliefs lean leftward. So I don't think it's too early to predict that the radical left in the state of Washington will do all it can to keep Initiative 285 from passing.
On most days, the left says that it supports the Constitution because it grants them the ability to speak out against such things as firearms, limited government and God. These same leftists would prefer that the moral majority be left clueless about the existence of the Second Amendment, the Tenth Amendment and the statement of rights in the Declaration.
When I-285 passes, the leftists might do all they can to see that the initiative is struck down in court as they have done with a number of other recent citizen initiatives in the state of Washington. Problem is, I can't quite imagine what's unconstitutional about teaching the Constitution.
© 2003 - Hans Zeiger - All Rights Reserved
Hans Zeiger, 18, is an activist and columnist. He is president of the Scout Honor Coalition and chairman of Washington Young Americans for Freedom. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"Article 1 of the Washington state constitution says, "All political power is inherent in the people, and governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, and are established to protect and maintain individual rights."