As sometimes happens, Mayor Ronnie had some thoughts and resources prepared for our appointment, and then, all of a sudden he knew that something else had moved into the “Plan A” slot for this edition. It puzzled him somewhat to be revisiting the necessity of knowing the Constitution of the United States of America, seeing as just two weeks ago, the Daughters of the American Revolution had given a wonderful Constitution Day presentation in the newly refurbished McCandless Hall on the ASU campus.
By all accounts, it would appear that the understanding of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights is alive and well in Athens, AL, and for the most part, that is true. At many public functions there are free copies of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution is available to anyone who wants one. They are provided by such organizations as The Heritage Foundation, the DAR, Hillsdale College, and the Alabama Policy Institute, and will fit in your pocket or pocketbook.
So, why the Mayoral concern about our kids knowing the founding documents of our country? I think it can be best described by former President George W. Bush when he said in his first Inaugural Address:
“America has never been united by blood or birth or soil. We are bound by ideals that move us beyond our backgrounds, lift us above our interests, and teach us what it means to be citizens. Every child must be taught these principles. Every citizen must uphold them. And every immigrant, by embracing these ideals, makes our country more, not less, American.”
“Every child must be taught these principles.” Which principles? Those laid down by the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. We put on our former teacher hats for a moment and discussed the readily available level of understanding of “the principles” amongst kids we had taught, and here is what we concluded. It is not enough to have a functional familiarity with the documents, the true skill comes with knowing how and why they work, and wrestling with them as they are applied to our lives, locally, on the state level, and nationally. This could be illustrated by how well we all know the Lord’s Prayer or the Pledge of Allegiance, and yet sometimes “check out” and say them like we are robots. But what happens when we connect with their truth? Lots.
“People are struggling with mistrust,” he said, “and to an extent that is understandable. If you have leaders who are not upholding the Constitution, you can expect nothing else.” And, I might add, if you have leaders who don’t even know the Constitution, it unfortunately falls upon the informed populace to speak truth to power. What, then, is the “intergenerational pact?” It is the understanding that the deep imprinting of the brilliance of the Founders swings both ways. Adults need to teach it, kids need to truly internalize it, not just regurgitate it, and bless their elders with their conclusions.
This year, as the Mayor and those who help him with the Mayor’s Youth Commission gear up for teaching our kids about life, local and state government, as well as what makes a city work well, there is going to be a new emphasis on the Constitution. They won’t just be mouthing words, but, as Mayor Ronnie read to me from his own pocket version of that blessed document—“We hold these truths to be self evident….” is going to be a serious part of what makes both Ronnie and our kids roll.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner