For a long time, I mourned the disappearance of Latin instruction in the public schools. I took five years of it, from high school through college, and found it an invaluable foundation for understanding and communicating as a writer.
These days I’m not so sure it’s the loss of Latin class that I should be mourning. I’m beginning to think the class they should bring back is civics. It morphed into what we called in my day “social studies,” but I’m ready to advocate for what it should be: a study of government, how it works, and particularly the U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and its succeeding amendments.
The Constitution is an amazing thing. It’s kind of like a simple instruction manual for running a democracy. You just wouldn’t know it to look at the news. These issues have been roiling for quite a while, but two recent events are reminding me that we need to review the Constitution – particularly a couple of amendments.
In the aftermath of the shootings in Aurora, Colo., let’s check out the Second Amendment:
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
That’s it. That’s the entire Second Amendment: 27 words. Why do we have it? Pure and simple, in case American citizens need to overthrow an oppressive and tyrannical government – you know, like the one our forefathers had with England. Because of this amendment, they would have the weapons to do so. It’s not so people can hunt animals. It’s not so people can shoot up campuses, playgrounds, and movie theaters. If we had civics class again, maybe this would be more obvious.
Turning now to the death of astronaut Sally Ride, let’s move on to the 14th Amendment. This one applies to the whole same-sex marriage controversy. Despite Ride’s long-time relationship with a woman, her survivor has no right to any government pension or benefits that would accrue to a heterosexual spouse.
The 14th Amendment has five sections, but the first one is most important:
No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
And of that section, the last sentence is most important. How the heck could anyone misinterpret the meaning of “equal protection of the laws”? And yet they do.
When I was in high school (even before the Bicentennial), I saw a cartoon of Uncle Sam, the venerable symbol of the United States. The caption read, “The reason for my longevity? I would have to say it’s my Constitution” (the last word having the secondary meaning of “body”).
People talk about our country being in decline. It’s not – it’s just that we’ve forgotten to read the instructions the country came with.