PocketConstitution

On September 17, 1787, the delegates to the Constitutional Convention met to sign one of the greatest documents ever created:  The United States Constitution. In 2004, the late Senator Robert Byrd led the effort to rename the day “Constitution Day and Citizenship Day,” which requires public schools and institutions to provide information on the history of the country’s constitution.   Our Founding Fathers would likely be pleased that the document they signed 231 years ago is still providing inspiration and guidance for American citizens and other countries around the world.

I was re-reading a letter I wrote to an attorney nearly two decades ago, who was striving to remove any vestige of our Judeo-Christian heritage from our country.  I have always maintained that religion has an appropriate role in the public square.   His position, of course, is that faith should be removed.  My answer to him was simple: “base your arguments on the US Constitution, not letters from dead Presidents.”  He had a clear misunderstanding of the Establishment Clause, despite the law degree, and was citing a letter in defense of free exercise of faith from a man who was not even present at the passage of the Constitution.

The United States Constitution is the one document in our public life that operates as a social contract between citizens and government, defining our basic rights and the limits of government with three main purposes:  First, it creates a federal government comprising of a legislative, an executive, and a judicial branch, with a system of checks and balances among the three branches.  Second, it shares power between the federal government and the states.  And third, it safeguards the liberties of all citizens.

The United States Constitution is an indisputably remarkable document, enduring in a world much different than the one in which it was written.  Our founding principles are critical as our country moves forward, if we are to survive as a nation.  It is one area in which Americans are likely to find agreement.  The power, scope and reach of the government is clearly defined by a simple reading of the document.   Since the only oath every member of Congress takes is to defend the Constitution, it would seem that citizens would place a high priority on this governing document.  However, we are reminded, that interpretations of the Constitution can hold opposing views.

Limiting the power of government and protecting the rights of our citizens is something we must all make a conscientious effort to protect. We should be especially appreciative for the protection afforded in our Bill of Rights, especially our most fundamental rights—freedom of speech, religion, protest, and our speech, religion, protest. A free society does not just occur. It has to be deliberately and intentionally preserved. Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom.

The founders knew it wasn’t a perfect document, yet the Constitution has adapted and prevailed. On Constitution Day, take a few minutes to read the document for yourself.   In order to protect the values, we hold so dear, we must guarantee that generations to come will embrace and uphold the one thing that sets us apart from every other nation. That one thing is the United States Constitution.

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited. For more information on this subject or any education issue please contact Professional Educators of Tennessee.

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“To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors, is sinful and tyrannical” is a quote usually attributed to Thomas Jefferson, which surfaced in the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. James Madison and George Wythe also championed the statute. Wythe was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Madison later played a critical role in drafting the U.S. Constitution and our Bill of Rights. No doubt that concept was prevalent among our founders.

That position has been one of my guiding principles, as both a classroom teacher in public schools and now as the executive director of our association. Our members continually reiterate to us they do not want their dues money going to political candidates or parties, nor do they want us in the endorsement business. We respect that position. We work with legislators regardless of their political affiliation, and that has helped us build bridges in addressing key education issues.

This election cycle we have already seen an influx of unaccountable cash, known as dark money, which pours into our state. The Nashville Scene’s Steve Cavendish did an excellent article on the subject of dark money in politics. Frank Daniels III of the Tennessean also did a terrific analysis. Daniel’s conclusion: outside money hurts more than it helps. Daniels wrote: “Tennessee voters were not swayed by big spending outsiders.” It is worth noting the message the outsiders bring is almost always negative. The point raised by Cavendish was: “If you don’t think this is an erosion of democracy, you’re not thinking about it hard enough.” Cavendish referenced Walmart and Microsoft billionaires, as well as unions, as the main culprits. We agree.

Our commitment to our members is simple. We are completely funded by the dues of our members. Our members are educators from the state of Tennessee. No other teachers’ association in this state is as well-respected in the legislature as Professional Educators of Tennessee for what we stand for, and how we go about our business on your behalf.

When we take your message to policymakers, understand this: we fight for public schools, because we understand the historical and philosophical basis of why public education exists. If public education is to continue to be successful, it will take all the policymakers and stakeholders working together. And we want to be your voice in Tennessee.

We encourage you to register to vote. We encourage you to vote. We encourage you to campaign for the candidates that reflect your values or beliefs. What we will not do is tell you who to vote for in this or any other election. A strong public education system is a key to our democracy, a foundation to build our economy, and the means by which we can help all Tennessee children achieve their dreams.

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Follow him on Twitter @jcbowman. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited.

constitutionbeeOn Saturday April 28th at 9-12 PM Central at the Williamson County Administration Building (1320 W. Main St., Franklin, TN 37064).  Be There!  

The Grand Champion prize package has been expanded to include a $3000 scholarship – and that’s in addition to the trip for two to Washington, D.C.!

The Bee is designed to focus on student knowledge of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights in the same way as the National Spelling Bee and the National Geography Bee.

In addition to the Grand Prize winning champion, the top performing student at each grade level (8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th) will receive a prize package and be featured in profiles at The Tennessee Star.

Registration is still open.  Visit http://tennesseestar.com/2017/09/06/registration-is-open-for-the-tennessee-star-constitution-bee/ to read more and to sign up!

The Tennessee Star Constitution Bee is presented by The Polk Foundation. Read more at http://polkfdn.com.

JC Bowman in NYC

We now live in a world where borders apparently don’t matter. The activities of corporations operating in multiple countries simultaneously, as well as travel being readily accessible, and networking possibilities of the Internet and social media render national borders somewhat less significant.  Then we need to ask the question:  Is culture still relevant?

Yet, William Bennett, a rather brilliant man and former US Secretary of Education, made an observation last year that politics and public engagement in social issues can make more of a difference than he once thought. Bennett is rather philosophical, and his opinion still carries much weight among policymakers and media.

To take it a step further, examine the words of Richard Shweder: “I believe that all the good things in life can’t be simultaneously maximized. I believe that when it comes to implementing true values there are always trade-offs, which is why there are different traditions of values (i.e., cultures) and why no one cultural tradition has ever been able to honor everything that is good.” People fail to consider there is no perfect society despite our historical attempts at creating it.

Debates on culture also include our conflicting orientation on matters such as secular versus religious, our concept of freedom along with our trust or distrust in the leadership of those who govern us. Culture impacts the success or failure of a certain aspect of society, such as health, education, institutions, justice, national security as well as other policy issues.

Thomas Jefferson wrote of the self-evident truth that “all men are created equal; endowed by their creator with the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” This endures as the powerful philosophical and moral foundation of the American republic itself.

On the subject of freedom in culture, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in his State of the Union Address he delivered on January 6, 1941, stated that American’s looked forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms. Roosevelt may not recognize the current age, but his points are worth a reminder.

  • The first is freedom of speech and expression—everywhere in the world.
  • The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way—everywhere in the world.
  • The third is freedom from want—which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants—everywhere in the world.
  • The fourth is freedom from fear—which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor—anywhere in the world.

Samuel Huntington, a political scientist at Harvard University, suggested that there are a set of eight cultural “civilizations” who are a major influence on current culture–Western, Eastern Orthodox, Latin American, Islamic, Japanese, Chinese, Hindu, and African. This explains our present-day struggles across the nation and the world, as well as repeated conflicts between countries and cultures.

Another major theme Huntington puts forward was that we have moved from a bi-polar competition between communism and democracy/capitalism to a geopolitical battle fostered by a multi-polar world of competing civilizations. In regards to immigration in our own country, that is manifested by the failure of people to assimilate into American society and culture.  He argues that could eventually change our nation into one where multiple languages, multiple cultures, create multiple peoples.   This is also a direct conflict with the concept of the founding principles of our nation.

Huntington wrote: “September 11 gave a major boost to the supporters of America as one people with a common culture. Yet the war to deconstruct our culture has not ended. It remains unresolved today whether America will be a nation of individuals with equal rights sharing a common culture, or an association of racial, ethnic, and cultural groups held together by hopes for material gains.”

Orwellian logic from which the principle that “All animals are equal” gives birth to the transformative postscript: “but some animals are more equal than others” when we are only focused on material gains. Equal rights are a common goal that culture should embrace.  As we consider culture, we have to see how this becomes applicable to public education, and what role should public schools plays in building a common culture, if any?  The time for discussion is now.

The United States is a diverse country, racially and ethnically, as well as in how people choose to organize themselves socially and politically. It can be argued that our public schools are integrally situated to communicate society’s values, such as individual responsibility, patriotism, integrity, objectivity, justice, respect for others, being on time, doing a good job, working well with others, being a good citizen, and exercising democracy in government and other interactions.  Americans have thus far kept our republic, and created it to be resilient and strong.  However, the United States will remain free only with relentless vigilance and public engagement, which must be transmitted in our culture.

Certainly we can do more to improve opportunities for all students. Public education has done an excellent job of positioning our state, nation and students for success.  Our ethnic identity and culture is rapidly changing.  The question we must ask ourselves, is that always for the better?  If we are not careful, we may risk losing what made America the envy of the world and a continual place of liberty and opportunity for our citizens. Educators must be the ones that provide hope, opportunity, and optimism for the subsequent generations.  In the end, history will prove that culture matters.

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee.  Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited. Follow him on social media via Twitter at @jcbowman.

declaration of independence

In 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt designated December 15 as Bill of Rights DayThis is the day we recognize and commemorate the first 10 amendments to the Constitution, which spell out our rights as citizens here in the United States of America.  That date was chosen because the Bill of Rights was originally ratified on December 15, 1791.  Our rights and freedoms as Americans are rooted in the Bill of Rights.  Unfortunately, many Americans do not fully appreciate or understand our Bill of Rights.

Future President, James Madison of Virginia, was the primary author of the first 10 amendments to the Constitution, which are recognized today as our Bill of Rights.  The Virginia Declaration of Rights, written by George Mason, strongly influenced their writing. Other documents such as the Magna Carta, the Petition of Right, the English Bill of Rights, and the Massachusetts Body of Liberties are considered foundations to our Bill of Rights.  The Bill of Rights was written to provide mutual constitutional protection of individual liberties of our citizens, and to limit the power of the federal government.

Regardless of personal political persuasion or affiliation, American citizens can unite around the Bill of Rights because it communicates our basic shared values.   President George W. Bush stated, “The true [American] revolution was not to defy one earthly power, but to declare principles that stand above every earthly power—the equality of each person before God, and the responsibility of government to secure the rights of all.”  President Franklin D. Roosevelt referred to the Constitution as “the great American charter of personal liberty and human dignity.”

Limiting the power of government and safeguarding the rights of our citizens is something we must all make a conscientious effort to protect.   We should be especially appreciative for the protection afforded in our Bill of Rights against a national government gaining ground against our most fundamental rights—freedom of speech, protest, and conscience guarantees our equal protection under the law.  A free society does not just occur. It has to be consciously devised and intentionally preserved. Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom.

We invite all citizens and educators to celebrate Bill of Rights Day on December 15 and commemorate the ratification of the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution.  It is critical to share the knowledge of the relevance and practicality gained through an understanding of the U.S. Constitution to the next generation.[i]

The Bill of Rights

Amendment I

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Amendment II

A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

Amendment III

No soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.

Amendment IV

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Amendment V

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

Amendment VI

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.

Amendment VII

In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise reexamined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

Amendment VIII

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

Amendment IX

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

Amendment X

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.

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JC Bowman in NYCJC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee.  Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee.  Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited.

 

[i] NOTE:  We are glad to assist our educator members across the state in promoting awareness of the United States Constitution, through various partners and projects.  In addition, if you email our partners at the 917 Society (917society@gmail.com) they will provide copies of the US Constitutions free of charge to all 8th grade classrooms.