Since the founding of the United States of America, civic education has been vital to sustaining a nation such as ours.
In 1820, Thomas Jefferson wrote in a letter to William C. Jarvis, “I know no safe depositary of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power.”
Over the past two centuries, America has become more democratic than our founders anticipated; more and more people have been granted the right to vote and power to participate in our government. Therefore, for our ongoing experiment in republican government to succeed, more and more people need to possess the civic knowledge, skills and dispositions necessary to participate in government.
For our children, we hope that schools teach the founding ideas and principles of good government so successive generations will embrace and practice these principles and ideas. But what about adults living in the Fort Wayne community today
Did you receive a good civic education in school? If you did, do you remember what was taught about government and the Constitution? Do you think about questions such as: What are the philosophical and historical foundations of the American political system? How did the framers create the Constitution? How has the Constitution been changed to further the ideals contained in the Declaration of Independence? How have the values and principles embodied in the Constitution shaped American institutions and practices? What rights does the Bill of Rights protect? And, what challenges might face American constitutional democracy in the 21st century?
If you believe you need a refresher on the principles and ideas of good government and the Constitution, I encourage you to sign up for Constitution 101. This six-week course on government and the Constitution is sponsored by the Allen County Bar Foundation and will be held at the Allen County Public Library.
In Federalist 51, James Madison wrote, “A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.”
The government we have is a direct reflection on us as a people. If we want better government, we need to embrace the responsibility to understand how government works and how we can participate in governing. I look forward to meeting you at Constitution 101.
Robert S. Leming is national director of the We the People: The Citizen and the Constitution program at the Center for Civic Education.