Published November 11, 2021

A Case for the Constitution and a Better Conversation for Every American Citizen

Written by
Michael Connelly
| The Dakotan
In the opinion of Michael Connelly
In the opinion of Michael Connelly

In February of 2015 North Dakota made it a requirement to have a civics examination where students must get at least 70 questions right to pass and gain eligibility for graduation. It's hard at the time of such a change to know if it is suiting the purpose it was designed to,  and it's very possible that it is meeting expectations on many levels. Yet as more history continues to unfold, I wonder if we can make it even more of a tool of knowledge for students going into their future beyond twelfth grade?

In recent months I've been doing a deep dive into some of the polarizing topics that our society is faced with in relation to both our population in general as well as the schools.  Some of the topics include Marxism, critical race theory, various other movements and so on.   In which case many have wanted to voice an opinion on how it should be addressed and often doing so in a manner of putting each other down or marginalizing the conversations of others in order to make their perspective look better. Some of the terms being thrown around that rarely empower support, but always create division and offensive reactions are terms like nonsense, indoctrination, manufactured outrage,  charlatans, political opportunists, hucksters, socialists, and the list is endless.

The question I ask myself is how do we get all sides past using such terms and positioning so we can grow into a better conversation that supports everybody in the population regardless of their perspective? In my opinion we've had that answer since1776 and it's found within the words inscribed in our Constitution of the United States of America including the Bill of Rights. 

Let me phrase it another way. What formal construct is available in this country that represents all 328 million people within our borders, 772,000 people in the state of North Dakota, 95,000 people in Burleigh county, and just under 78,000 people within the area of Bismarck. Hands down this is the Constitution of the United States which is second to none by a long shot, and with second place so far behind one can't even see it unless we allow it. 

One of the greatest reasons that backs this up is that our forefathers had the fortitude to develop something that allows us regardless of the lifespan of this country to grow towards a more perfect union without discrimination to a citizen's standing or location.  Even in the papers that were written following the writing of the Constitution, the adoption of such a direction was considered the safest course for everybody's pursuit of liberty, dignity, and happiness. Also found within the discussions between the federalist papers, the anti-federalist papers and other writings were examples of how other societies failed to support its citizens as well as the motivations and jealousies of men that produced harmful government and hurt citizens.  As the forefathers reflected on many things, they also made rather specific acknowledgments that good people can create bad government as well as bad people. They formed a system that had a lot of checks and balances in order to mitigate the biases and and other flaws that could get the way of people's liberty and pursuit of happiness. This can be further backed up in the words straight from federalist paper number one stating that discussions were meant to examine the advantages of a union, certain evils, unprobeable dangers, and all the topics to be presented for adoption.

One of the most famous quotes in all of the federalist papers came from paper number 51 by James Madison; "If Men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and the next place, oblige it to control itself."

It was also James Madison that talked about some of the misgivings found within the unfolding of our government in relation to some of the flaws within the Constitution and how it represented certain classes of people.  The fact that a person can be seen as property and thus hold less value as a human being was a concern even in the beginning and was where some of the very facts that the forefathers said would be harmful to the Union we're adopted out of jealousy and fear.  In the same breath it was mentioned that men better than them would have the opportunity to amend the Constitution is in order to grow toward the more perfect Union was noted.

Part of what is argued to be presumed facts of credibility for some of the theories out there is one of the amendments known as the 14th amendment. They question why the 14th amendment is even needed when it could have been addressed in the first place at the adoption of the Constitution. Unfortunately, history can be a very ugly and wrong at times and that's why Is the idea of amendments became a resource for our Constitutional Republic.  Through the amendment process better men could make adjustments improving the Union and making the Constitution work for all citizens living within the borders of the United States.

Recently a Union representative wrote their own perspective in relation to some of these issues and there is one thing they said that I could not agree more on in their dialog as it supports one of the main intentions of the Constitution; "Like most Americans, I believe that America is exceptional. This country has time and again proven itself so. And I also believe that part of what makes this nation exceptional is our ability to learn from our past. Our objective of forming a more perfect union impels us to do so."  What was left out Of the dialog was that this comes from our Constitution and, out of the spirit of being positive assumed that everybody would know where originates from.  But when it comes to this being one of our foundations it is something that needs to be said every time because that's how we make sure our foundations stay strong.

Now I'm glad that North Dakota does not include any of the theories, movements, or constructs as core curriculum in teaching our kids and I would hope that it always remains that way.  I have also been assured that such discussions have been left to be had within the areas of higher education and more specifically in the professions of law. At least in these regards the students have brains that are fully developed and can take on such concepts and measure it against their experience, as well as their learning. Prior to grade 12 when a lot of that development is still in active growth, the subjects should not be taught because it can damage the foundations meant to represent us all. There is a level of genuine concern out there because of what we're seeing adopted in other parts of the country and raises flags of concern.  This is also part of our checks and balances within our Republic in which we as a citizen run government have the responsibility of every single one of us to take care of our Union through those foundations so we can grow into a better one. 

Going beyond the topic of core curriculum is is the category of optional Learning regardless of context.   Some of the features of this that I've heard that occurs within the local school system has been nothing short of inspiring and an empowering benefit for kids.  But there are many in this community that don't think the theories or movements would be in that same realm. I would encourage the school district to create a vetting system that includes both educators and parents In order to make sure certain topics are presented in the learning framework at the appropriate time. This checks and balances should help everybody as there's a lot of opportunities for knowledge to be learned at many different levels before the 12th grade and after.

In conclusion whether it's in the general course of the subjects you already teach or as an example through the civics' exam that's already been adopted by our legislature, I would encourage our school system to make a more purposeful effort in supporting a system that is 2nd to none. Our constitution and all its constructs is the only course in place that is set up to support a growing population beyond the 328 million citizens with all their diversities. 

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