Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Happy Birthday

On this date in 1791, the first ten amendments to the US Constitution, the "Bill of Rights," were ratified. The process was a stormy one, and ratification was certainly not a foregone conclusion, but the nation's founders got it together enough to provide us and the rest of the world with a remarkable list of rights the government could not abridge and then appended the list to that even more remarkable foundational document, the Constitution.

A thumbnail sketch of that process was provided in an op-ed written by Jonathan Estrin and Marshall Croddy for the Los Angeles Times. Both men lead the L.A.-based Constitutional Rights Foundation which is dedicated to civic education. After tracing the events leading to the ratification, Estrin and Croddy suggest that it is doubtful that today's political leaders have the skills and passions for democracy that our founders had.

After watching the debacles of the 111th Congress, I sadly must agree. The Republicans have spent the last year just saying "NO!" to whatever proposals the Democrats in the White House and in Congress submit. The Democrats, on the other hand, have been busy selling out the interests of the citizenry to the highest corporate bidders in economic stimulus and health care reform. Both sides of the aisle, their pockets bulging with pieces of silver, couldn't find a Constitutional Convention with a map, much less take a meaningful part in one.

Still, I'm not ready to throw in the towel on this experiment. Like Mr. Estrin and Mr. Croddy, I believe that it is possible to regain our democracy, and I think their proposals are good ones.

For our democracy to continue to flourish, we must have an educated and involved citizenry. We must have leaders who can debate and compromise to find solutions to our vexing problems.

And we must educate our young people to take these civic roles in the future. This vital task must be borne by both parents and schools.

Research shows that parents can play a major role in the development of their children's civic education. You can make a big difference by engaging your children in discussions about issues and politics, watching and discussing the news with them, and by taking them to the polls or public meetings with you.

Schools must encourage civic learning. Students should have plenty of practice in structured discussion of politics and controversial issues to help them learn to analyze cause and effect and multiple points of view, present fact- and logic-based opinions, and listen to what others have to say.

Research shows that students who have the opportunity to participate in simulations such as legislative hearings, mock trials and, yes, even constitutional conventions not only learn more but develop greater civic skills and interest in politics.

Although we need to make sure our children are proficient in math and reading, it is vitally important to the future of our democracy that they also learn what it means to be a competent and involved citizen.

Yes, I think that gets it nicely.



Blogger Woody (Tokin Librul/Rogue Scholar/ Helluvafella!) said...

Every couple of years results of studies are released showing that a majority in most cases, and always a plurality, of present-day Murkins would DEFEAT at least three or four of the original 10 Amendments--usually those which actually protect individual privacy--if they were left to a plebiscite.

With the perfusion and complete domination of the political process by CorpoRat interests--which are always already profoundly anti-democratic and inimical to concepts such as "justice" and "fairness--it would be surprising--shit, it would be astonishing-- to see even the general outlines of the Constitution or its amendments be made Law by Congress today.

The American "experiment" is done, and the 'null hypothesis'--that a 'republic' CANNOT survive an hereditary oligarchy and enormous wealth concentration--has been supported.

6:34 AM  
Anonymous joel hanes said...

A democratic republic can be a working political system for an informed electorate that reads and thinks and writes. Television has replaced those activities for most potential voters in the United States, with results we can see every day.

10:28 AM  

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