Trustees | General Education

Civics, and civility

Give next generation the tools to better argue
DAILY CAMERA   |  July 4, 2010 by Erika Stutzman

On this glorious day when we celebrate our nation’s independence, it’s a good time to remember the things that have made our country—and the freedom we all share—so great.

There are the troops who have vowed to protect it, then and now, with their very lives. And whatever you think about the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan—whether you think they are winnable, or just—the men and women volunteers fighting under our flag there are there because they promised you they would go when asked by their government.

The backbone of it all is our Constitution, our Bill of Rights and a system of checks and balances—courts, a free press, elections—that throughout our history have corrected past wrongs.

Yes, people are demanding they want their “country back.” Which one? Slavery has been abolished, schools have been desegregated, women and minorities have been given the right to vote. Heck, after a brief pause, we can even legally crack open a beer again, and we’re sure a lot of our readers will probably do that today.

Some cultural critics want to return to the “Christian nation” we were as set forth in the Constitution. Let’s look at Texas schools—they of the grand tradition of awarding minimum grades of up to 70 percent for students who simply signed their name to an assignment or test until a state judge told them to stop last month.

They’re going to revise textbooks to be conservative, and through the published statements of those in charge that means making Joseph McCarthy a justified, reasonable commie-hunter, and returning to our Constitutional heritage as dictated by … Jesus Christ. Maybe those kiddoes would be better off just learning how to simply sign their names, since the study of Christ in the Constitution will set them up for embarrassing factual failures later on. He’s not in there. (And for the record, the “year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty seven” is a date, not a prayer to Jesus Christ.)

Christians, people of other faiths, and people of no faiths have been well-served by the freedoms the founders, and the checks and balances they created, have established for us through the enduring separation of church and state.

But we can see how it is easy to be confused, these days, about what freedom means, and how hard it’s been to extend it to all Americans, and protect it from those who would do it harm.

Take the confirmation hearings of Elena Kagan, where some Republican senators took the unusual approach of attacking the late Thurgood Marshall, former Supreme Court justice best remembered as a civil rights hero. If you’ve never read about segregation or Brown v. Board of Education, it could be supposed that he would appear to be a busybody “activist judge.” But even a cursory knowledge of American history reveals Marshall as a defender of the U.S. Constitution’s extension of basic rights to individual Americans.

The American Council of Trustees and Alumni did a survey which showed fewer than 15 percent of colleges and universities require any study of American history or government. And they report that the top-ranked universities are the worst offenders: You can graduate from any of the top 20 national universities, as ranked by U.S. News & World Report, without having taken a single American history or government course.

Maybe if we want the next generation to continue to enforce the Constitution and protect the glorious freedoms it provides, we should fight harder to ensure they are educated in civics, and stop playing around with revisionist history.


Launched in 1995, we are the only organization that works with alumni, donors, trustees, and education leaders across the United States to support liberal arts education, uphold high academic standards, safeguard the free exchange of ideas on campus, and ensure that the next generation receives an intellectually rich, high-quality college education at an affordable price.

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