Constitution and Citizenship Day:: The Most Shy Holiday

Sep 17, 2018 by

Constitution Day and Citizenship Day ( 2 holidays wrapped into 1),  which used to be called “I Am An American Day” ,came and went on September 17th and who knew, who cared and should we?
I think we must, but in a reflective, not a boastful way.  Too bad introspection is not our national pastime.

All federal agencies and taxpayer-funded educational institutions are required to program lessons on Constitutional history.  This is one of those technical mandates that is observed in the breach.

It is less seriously enforced than the prohibition against children opening  lemonade stands that compete with manufacturers of citrus sodas.

It’s a holiday with “gravitas” in theory, but it gets the cold shoulder in practice. Groundhog Day gets far more media mics hot and cameras rolling.

Citizenship is a difficult subject to explore in depth because of its choleric proximity to immigration. Tempers flare and nerves and biases get exposed.
Should the study of citizenship devolve into a chest-thumping, self-congratulatory catechism on American “exceptionalism” with the rest of the world being, therefore, comparatively inglorious?   Can and should a curriculum be devised with a goal of unifying national consciousness, whatever that means?
Should the inculcation of patriotism be the intellectual equivalent of a military parade allowing a mixed bag of insinuations to be drawn?

When debated, the topics Citizenship, and even the Constitution are themes that are rarely spared the contamination of either blind rage or blind adoration. 

There is bilateral myopia.

One side sees the US Constitution as a sacred document that confers special status on its citizens as a chosen people. The other side insists that it is a flawed blueprint of political science handed down by over-rated forefathers with a predilection for exploitation.
Agenda-free scholarship is practically extinct in our schools, especially in the study of history and government. There is revision to suit every platform.
The US Constitution is one of civilization’s greatest affirmations of human rights, comparable to the Magna Carta.  It should not be ostentatiously revered, but neither should it be preposterously slammed as an instrument of oppression.

It should not be a tool of propaganda of any kind.The Constitution and the comforts of citizenship should not be devalued as though they were taxi medallions.

Kissing the earth upon arriving here is an image shared by millions over many generations, and though the image is no longer original and is a bit corny, it has not lost its luster. Or shouldn’t have.
Still we must be very wary of any curriculum that “teaches” citizenship.” 

An examination of the US Constitution can be almost as thorny.  The chances that there will be a cogently-argued, balanced and good-faith examination is negligible.  In the “Problems in American Democracy” class decades ago when I was in high school, students could rhetorically fight over the Vietnam War with relative composure and occasionally a wee bit of tolerance.

If and when the Constitution and Citizenship are taught as observance of the national holiday that hardly anybody heard of, teachers should be instructed to preface their lessons with a statement making it clear that students will be evaluated on the impressiveness of their presentation rather than their conformity to their teacher’s personalized “take.”

Do we as a nation, and the separate states of which we are comprised, have the maturity to discuss the nature, duties, rights and legacy of citizenship and the US Constitution without voluntarily falling into the trap  of politicization? 

If not, then we should have no official curriculum for those areas.
Consider what the Texas Board of Education advisory committee did a few days ago:  They removed Helen Keller, because “she does not best represent the concept of citizenship.”  Whose concepts and based on what? They said that “military and first responders are best represented” and dropped figures from their approved list of “significant social leaders” for questionable reasons.
Departments of Educations should not operate like de facto propaganda ministries, even when we agree with them. When they do, it can be, ironically, a government-sponsored violation of the freedom of thought.

Love of country. By whose litmus test?  If we wear it in our hearts, there’s no need to wear it on our sleeves.
Ron Isaac

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