Friday, June 18, 2010

The Constitution: A Living Breathing Document

This post first appeared here at History Is Elementary in June, 2006. I’m currently attending a seminar on educational law, so it seems appropriate to re-run this today.


Earlier this month we sidestepped another effort to amend our Constitution. That’s not surprising since there have been approximately 10,000 proposed amendments since 1789. Most of them never got out committee while some amendments, the Equal Rights Amendment, for example, gained great notoriety but expired while waiting on ratification.

If it’s possible to love a document then Elementaryhistoryteacher absolutely adores the United States Constitution. My American identity rests in the stability and continuity of the United States Constitution. I really get into teaching my government unit even though some of the more intricate workings of our government I’m required to cover in fourth grade are a bit too lofty for the students to grasp. However, I try. I lay seeds that I hope will sprout later.

I teach students that our Constitution was the first of its kind for a recognized nation. It is so important that it has been copied many times by other fledgling democracies. We spiral back in our content to recall events we studied earlier in the year that began a chain ending with the Constitutional Convention. We remember the Iroquois League, the Mayflower Compact, and the Fundamental Orders. I remind students the colonist were Europeans---men who had governmental roots based in monarchies---men whose ancestors were the majority yet lived at the pleasure of a few leaders or in most cases one decision maker. We remember the Declaration of Independence whose author had the audacity to give a divine monarch his comeuppance. The beauty of it, I tell students, is that our plan of government works. It worked during times of crisis like the Civil War, Watergate, and during the presidential election of 1876 when the voting results were disputed in three states.

We discuss the events during the actual Constitutional Convention including the various compromises, and we learn about the three branches of government. We discuss ratification. At this point I usually depart from my colleagues because I feel it is important to teach students how our Constitution provides for amendments, but they should understand that any effort to change one of our most previous documents should be approached soberly and gingerly.

We discuss the first ten amendments known as the Bill of Rights because they concern our individual rights and were necessary in order to obtain ratification of the document. Future amendments are not usually discussed at my grade level unless the time period is taught when the amendments were added. There is nothing wrong with this in my eyes but teachers are loosing a fantastic opportunity to give the amendment process the proper examination it requires. Teachers are usually required to teach citizenship responsibilities to contrast with the Bill of Rights. Lessons are presented that indicate certain rights citizens have contrasting activities citizens should engage in to keep the Republic healthy such as voting and educating ourselves regarding important issues. While we are teaching citizen responsibilities we should also focus on the appropriateness of amending the Constitution.

The originality of our government is that it gives something very precious to ‘we the people’---not entitlement programs, porkbelly special projects, or low interest student/home loans---but freedom. Citizens are given freedom of choice, freedom of action, and freedom to live as we wish as long as our freedom does not interfere with the freedom of someone else.

It should be remembered that the Constitution doesn’t hand rights over to us; our plan of government only guarantees them. The philosophy that many of our Forefathers operated under taught that citizens are born with certain rights and liberties. The Constitution simply secures these rights for the populace.

The framers of the Constitution were highly suspicious of government. They had just gotten rid of what they considered to be tyrannical control. They were all about protecting individual rights not restricting liberty. Amendments to the Constitution involving personal liberty should always grant liberty not take it away.

Whether I agree with the premise or not, a proposed Constitutional amendment should never be used to serve as a smokescreen for Congress in anticipation of midterm elections. Our nation faces major problems with illegal immigration and the war in Iraq, yet proposed amendments regarding flag burning and same-sex marriage have been discussed repeatedly. This has been a poor use of the amendment process and is a poor use of emotional issues to detour voters from the real issues at hand.

Some Americans are going to engage in behaviors that others will have a problem with . Does this mean we are going to propose amendments for what some perceive to be bad choices and bad behavior? If this is allowed I'm afraid we will be opening doors that will be very hard to close in the future.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

A Tale of Two Summers

This post was written in June, 2006 and since Vacation Bible School season is fast upon us I thought I would re-run it.

Go back in time with me to the olden days when summer was June, July, and August, kids caught fire flies while the adults talked ‘big talk’ on the porch, and my sister and I would find ourselves in our pajamas at the Dairy Queen on the whim of our parents as dusk overtook the day.

Each summer morning I would awaken to an already fiery sun around nine a.m. I would lie there awake and listen to the sounds around me. Sometimes I would identify the sounds of the washing machine, the slam of our wooden screen door, or my mother speaking on the telephone. I never dressed immediately. Instead I would get up and wander about the house looking out the front door and then moving towards the back of the house to check out what was going on. I’d say good morning to mom and then fix my breakfast. Sometimes it would be cinnamon toast or my personal favorite back then….Saltines spread with just a hint of butter and placed under the broiler. “Not too long or they’ll burn,” my mother would remind me.

Breakfast would be served in front of television that would blare The Price is Right, The $25,000 Dollar Pyramid, and Match Game (cartoons only played on Saturday morning back then). By the end of Match Game I knew it was 10:30.


You didn’t tell time by what was on television?

It was easier back then, you know. We only had three channels---four or five if the coat hanger with oddly formed clumps of aluminum foil attached to it was turned just right.

By 11:00 I was finally dressed and mounting my bike to survey my outside world to see if anything was amiss. My Dad ran a lumberyard and our house was positioned right in the middle of the grounds. I had a large wonderful world to play in, imagine in and with all that extra lumber lying around I could concoct some hellacious ramps to take jumps on. I popped a pretty mean wheelie, too, with my monkey handlebars, banana shaped bike seat (white with psychedelic flowers) and optional sissy bar.

By late afternoon it would be H---O---T, hot, and my Sheltie dog, Lady, and I would opt for porch play. The house I grew up in was built in 1929 and had a very wide front porch that spanned the length of the front of the house. It was a wonderful outside room we used when it rained. Sometimes we used it late into the evening on summer nights. I’d play ‘house’ or ‘school’ for hours with Lady dutifully playing the role of ‘the baby’ or ‘the student’. Sometimes Lady would want her belly rubbed, so I’d read aloud to her from books like Henry and Ribsey, Ramona Quimby, Stuart Little, or Homer Price. Lady would lay there sprawled out listening to me and occasionally she wagged her tail in amusement.

Then the week would finally arrive for Vacation Bible School. I’d spend each morning for one week with my Sunday people. You know, all the folks I usually only saw on Sundays---the preacher, the choir director, my Sunday school teachers, and all the other people who benefited from my hugs. I was a huge hugger as a child and I made my rounds every Sunday. Vacation Bible School meant more time for hugs.

Vacation Bible School also meant learning more about Jesus, singing songs like Deep and Wide and crafts. There would be lots of glue, Popsicle sticks, Bible verses and of course, pictures of Jesus that would be glued to construction paper, taken home, and placed on the fridge.

Well, things have changed though I’m not so sure for the better. It seems Vacation Bible School has become a frantic string of activities packed into four hours where kids are told, “Hurry up we need to get to devotional.” “You don’t have time to finish the craft----we’ll be late for music.”

Not only has education become scripted in many areas so has Vacation Bible School. There was a time when you could go to your home church and experience their Bible school during June and in July attend the bible school for the church down the road. It would be entirely different. Most churches today (at least the Baptist ones I am most familiar with) purchase their Vacation Bible School materials from one vendor such as Lifeway. The program is theme-based with terrific materials for volunteers but……

……wasn’t it working well the way it was?

Does Vacation Bible School need a theme?\

Isn’t the Bible the only script we need?

I'm not dissing the concept or the wonderful volunteers...just the PROGRESS.

Every year at the beginning of the school year I know who has attended Bible school. They wear their t-shirts proudly as well they should. This year the Lifeway theme is ‘Artic Edge’. The shirts are cute but in my day (and I’m borrowing from the movie “The Three Amigos” here) we didn’t need no stinkin’ t-shirts.”

I fear most of my students won’t have the same summer experiences I did. Most kids these days get up early, get dressed, and get carted off to daycare where they have no bikes to ride and play in an overused play yard surrounded by a fence. Imagination is almost non-existent and very few students return to school in August with a tan. Most can’t stand the heat. They beg to go in from recess after a full five minutes because, “It’s hot!” Most students are simply overwhelmed by too much technology and can’t quite figure out how to entertain each other when given the opportunity with the simple outdoors.

My daughter has been helping out along with other members of her youth group at Vacation Bible School this week. She reports her group of second graders is awfully clingy. They want to hug her all the time or constantly take up their time wanting to share little vignettes of their life. They move together as a group from activity to activity and are having problems staying together as a group. Each group has a banner that identifies their grade level that they carry around from station to station. It’s a cute idea but Daughter Dear says the kids fight over who gets to carry it. When someone is chosen the rest complain. I spoke to Daughter Dear about group management, but she told me that was left up to the group’s adult leader.

Yesterday the second grade group received two newbies. Yes, it seems even Vacation Bible School receives “transfers”. Anyway, these two newbies are apparently the Devil’s spawn. Daughter Dear reports one little Damien sd GD out loud for all to hear.
Second grade, mind you.

I reminded Daughter Dear that the type of behavior she described is the premier reason why I don’t volunteer to help with Vacation Bible School. I’d end up disciplining some fellow church member’s sweet cherub and cause some type of major incident.

I know my limitations.

Daughter Dear ended our conversation by properly surmising, “Well, if I was their mom I’d try to get away from them for four hours, too.... if I could. All I can do is try to love them while I have them.”

Well…apparently she does listen to me sometimes.

That’s all we can do……love them.