On the necessity of teaching the Constitution, civics in school.

The Constitution
Happy Constitution Day! Keep the Constitution alive by learning about it and teaching it to your kids.

A generation ago, civics classes used to be ubiquitous in public schools.  Now, as more and more schools teach for standardized tests, the study of the government and the Constitution has fallen by the wayside.  Many Millenials don’t even have a basic knowledge of the Constitution or of civics.  Often when asked, they can’t even name the three branches of government. This is a dangerous trend in this democratic republic we call the USA. For a republic to properly function, it is essential that we the people are aware of our rights and responsibilities as citizens.

If you have school-age children, do you know if their school has any sort of civics curriculum?  Celebrating Constitution Day is a great time to think about such things and take action with your local school board to recommend bringing back civics if it’s not being taught.  If it is, please take time to praise them for supporting civics and Constitutional studies.  You may find that along with music, art, and physical education, that civics could be on the chopping block due to budget cuts or greater emphasis on teaching for standardized tests.  Your speaking up could help innoculate wavering school board members from pressure to cut such valuable programs now and in the future.

If you don’t have kids, take some time to read our important founding documents like the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.  You are in charge of your own civics education.  If you have never read them before, or haven’t since you took civics in school, you might be surprised and enlightened by what’s in them.  There is also something about reading the actual, unfiltered texts that you can’t get by reading a book or hearing about them on TV. (Of course, no harm in doing both!) Arming yourself with this knowledge will help you fight for and protect your most sacred rights as an American.

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The much-maligned electoral college

electoral-map-16Every four years like clockwork, people prove they have no understanding of why the electoral college was put in place by the framers of the Constitution by calling for it to be abolished in favor of a direct election.   To add fuel to the fire, it looks like the winner of the electoral college and the winner of the popular vote this time around could be two different people.  It’s not surprising, everyone learns in grade school that America is a democracy.  Problem is, that is only half-true.  The U.S.A. is a democratic republic.  Somehow, the “republic” part of it always gets forgotten.

Here then is an explanation of why we have an electoral college, probably oversimplified a bit…

The framers of the Constitution realized that in a direct democracy, the states with larger populations would dominate the states with smaller populations.  If you look at today’s electoral map, you’ll notice that most of the highly populated states tend to be blue (Democrat) and the less populated states are red (Republican). This has been the typical result for decades now.  Our founders knew that the chief concerns of citizens in the rural areas were usually different from those living in urban areas.  In order to provide for a more level playing field, they engineered the electoral college system where voters vote for electors who in turn are pledged to vote for the winner of their district.  That way, candidates would be forced to win states, not just population center.  Under a direct democratic vote, the candidates would only have to campaign in the cities.  There would be no incentive to go to the rural areas as well. In today’s world, that means that candidates would never have to consider the wishes and concerns of the farmer in Midwest, the rancher in the Southwest or the shrimper living on the gulf coast.  He or she could win having campaigning exclusively in the big cities.  New York, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and a very few other cities would wield tremendous power, even more so than the already do, over the “flyover” states in the interior.  The electoral college is a means to slightly level the playing field for the smaller states.

Although they would have called it something different, the electoral college was meant to serve as a firewall between the elected and the electorate. They knew from history that direct democracies could be manipulated to bend to the will of a demagogue, or could be corrupted.  Even today, virtually every dictator won their job by a “fair” election.  Hitler before he seized total dictatorial power, was elected by the German people. The framers had the foresight to see this sort of thing could happen and sought to insulate the office of the President from the passions of the people.  It keeps the election of our president from becoming a power grab.

Much-maligned of late, the electoral college does serve a purpose.  Its main function is to equalize the power between the small and large states so that all states matter, not just the more densely populated ones.  It provides the farmers in rural Kansas with some parody to their counterparts working on Wall Street.  It forces candidates to campaign outside as well as inside the big cities.  It recognizes that different regions of the country have different economic and social priorities.  Without it, only the priorities of the urban areas would be attended to.  It also serves as an insurance policy against demagogues, or a corrupt population selling its vote to the highest bidder.  The electoral college often gets a bum rap, mainly from people unaware of its purpose, but has served this country well for over two hundred years. Maybe we should cut it a break.