Originally published at the Washington Examiner.
While initially penned on parchment paper, the Constitution transcends time and technology to remain one of the most influential and inspirational documents in the history of the world. Issues debated in Philadelphia by the Founders are still argued in the halls of Congress with a vigor and passion that rivals that of Madison and Jefferson. The Constitution is more than a word tossed around during debates or campaign speeches—it is the foundation of our republic and the fabric with which our story has been written.
Our rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, so eloquently detailed in the Declaration of Independence, are protected by the very structure of the Constitution. To its core, the Constitution was written to ensure that individual liberty trumps that of government in every way possible.
In fact, it was crafted with the full knowledge that unless our citizens know—and value—these rights, government could take them away. Protections such as checks and balances, separation of powers, and the Bill of Rights, were put in place as a beacon of acknowledgement that individual liberty is the building block of a free society.
To maintain our liberty, it is imperative that with each passing generation our classrooms are invigorated with the constitutional principles that guide this great nation. With students that aren’t just reading about the Constitution, but are actively engaging with it, applying it to issues that directly affect their lives and communities. Students need to know that we interact with it every day, from a visit to church on Sunday, to an interaction with a police officer, to reading the news, to posting a message on social media, to simply talking on the phone.
However, recent studies have shown that our students lack that basic understanding of American History and civics. The 2014 Nation’s Report Card4 provides an alarming view of just how disengaged eighth-graders are with fundamental building blocks of our great nation. A mere 18 percent attained proficiency in U.S. History and 24 percent in civics.
While the Founders intended government to protect our rights, of these very same eighth grade students, fifty-one percent believe the purpose of government is to guarantee everyone a job.
What is the catalyst for this lack of knowledge and engagement? A lack of emphasis in the classroom on more than just memorizing abstract facts. To solve this problem, we must begin with hands-on application of the Constitution.
We have, within our grasp, solutions to this crisis. This Constitution Day, the Bill of Rights Institute is once again providing educators with engaging primary source-based lessons, discussions, and activities to use in the classroom. Designed to draw connections between complex topics facing society, such as racial tensions in Ferguson or debates over immigration reform, religious liberty, and free speech, and the Constitution, these resources are free of charge and open to parents, students, teachers, administrators, and any individual that seeks to improve their civic knowledge.
The Constitution is a beautiful beacon of what is possible when power is derived from the people—and the people recognize that governments’ purpose is to protect our individual rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.