Sunday, September 17, 2006

“Constitution Day” Is An Abuse of Federal Power

From A Stitch in Haste blog, a discussion of Constitution Day, which is being celebrated tomorrow at Marquette, with a debate in which we are participating!

In fact, it’s a prime case of Congress exceeding its legitimate role.

Some of the controversy is outlined in an article from MSNBC.

WASHINGTON - The Constitution long has ensured that Congress can’t tell schools what to teach. But that’s no longer the case for at least one topic — the Constitution itself.

The Education Department outlined Tuesday how it plans to enforce a little-known provision that Congress passed in 2004: Every school and college that receives federal money must teach about the Constitution on Sept. 17, the day the document was adopted in 1787.

Schools can determine what kind of educational program they want, but they must hold one every year on the now-named “Constitution Day and Citizenship Day.” And if Sept. 17 falls on a weekend or holiday, schools must schedule a program immediately before or after that date.

Some decry ‘federal micromanagement’

In middle school or high school, for example, schools may have to interrupt lesson plans, said Dan Fuller, director of federal programs for the National School Boards Association.

“You may have to leap from the Civil War or Vietnam to the Constitution,” Fuller said. “Local schools cover the Constitution, and they’ve been doing it for a long time. We don’t need the federal micromanagement. Congress has been acting more like a school board.”

In higher education, “It’s the sort of thing that raises the question, ‘If this, what’s next?’” said Becky Timmons, senior director for government relations at the American Council on Education, the leading lobbying group for colleges and universities.

“If the justification is that the Constitution is so central to our democracy, couldn’t somebody else come along and say, ‘Well, I think the history of American architecture is quite important,’” she said. “I don’t think most folks on campus perceive this to be an enormous slippery slope, but it’s never good when the government tells them what to teach.”

Was this some kind of movement in Congress to jam this down school districts throats? No, it was one Senator who was at fault.
But Congress stepped in when it came to the nation’s foundational document, thanks to Sen. Robert Byrd, the West Virginia Democrat who keeps a copy of the Constitution in his pocket. Byrd inserted the Constitution lesson mandate into a massive spending bill in 2004, frustrated by what he called a huge ignorance on the part of many Americans about history.
In other words, this sounded like a good idea, and nobody thought to question whether it really was a good idea.

If it was indeed such a good idea, aren’t local school districts capable of figuring that out and doing it on their own? Are they less to be trusted than a senator who used to be a member of the Klan?

We won’t say this is unconstitutional, since any school district (or university) is free to ignore the mandate if they are willing to lose Federal funds. In other words, the same tool that the Federal government used to force desegregation in Southern schools, and to prevent law schools from discriminating against military recruiters is being used to micromanage school curricula.

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