Editorial: We keep our freedoms by teaching them

The Heritage Foundation

Did you know today is “Bill of Rights Day”? If the answer is no, you’re not alone. Most Americans are barely aware of it.

Sadly, that’s not surprising. Most of us would fail the U.S. citizenship exam. Few can name more than one or two First Amendment rights or more than a few rights in the entire first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution. That is a serious problem, especially at a time when lawsuits nationwide ask judges to reform criminal justice or to stop states from discriminating against religious gatherings.

It doesn’t have to be this way, though. And fortunately, different kinds of organizations are addressing Americans’ lack of civic knowledge in unique ways.

Take Constituting America, founded by actor Janine Turner, and co-led by Cathy Gillespie. Very few organizations engage students to teach one another, but Constituting America is one of them. It encourages multimedia peer education through its We the Future contest. A student may create a TikTok video, a song or a work of art to help other kids understand their American rights and responsibilities.

For teachers, the aptly named Bill of Rights Institute, the Ashbrook Center, and a few similar organizations provide teachers with the education that they should have received in education school but never did. These organizations engage teachers in serious discussion of core documents in American history to understand how principles of freedom, legal equality and rights have unfolded throughout our short, fragile, but well-balanced history as a republic.

Fundamental American values like these are constantly under debate. The National Christian Forensics and Communications Association is one of just a few organizations — if not the only one — that helps students think deeply enough about different points of view to debate them intelligently, with integrity and with grace toward those who disagree.

Fewer organizations exist at the college level, in part because too many people assume that kids have had enough civics by the time they’ve graduated high school. The William S. Knight Center for Patriotic Education at College of the Ozarks is one of the innovative college-level projects under construction. When people learn about America’s founding principles, they tend to love these principles and become informed patriots. Many of us love this heritage enough to defend it and to encourage us to become a “more perfect Union” by living up to it.

In policy, the Texas Public Policy Foundation and other state-level organizations encourage policymakers to address America’s civic literacy deficits. The organization’s Tom Lindsay, for instance, has challenged the false perspective of the 1619 Project — which pretends that the basic story of America is slavery and discrimination instead of equality and freedom — and has challenged activism civics, which comes at the expense of core understanding and the bigotry of low expectations.

Those unfortunate trends all too often distract legislators from what citizens need to learn most, and these policy organizations successfully fight back.

Of course, all of these organizations, and many more, do much more to improve civic education in America in many ways. Parents, in particular, are a significant part of their work and a large part of the solution. “We are in charge of our children’s futures, and it’s time for a revolution,” Turner wrote upon founding Constituting America a decade ago.

On Bill of Rights Day, we can hear about all of these organizations in a special celebration hosted by The Heritage Foundation’s Feulner Institute. We invite everyone to tune in to learn, celebrate and think carefully about our first freedoms.

Now that parents in 2020 see what their homebound children are really being exposed to, more and more parents are using resources from these organizations and are calling for curricular transparency and reform.

Note also that none of these are government programs. Self-governance requires that we all step up to preserve our best values for the next generation. The question is, are we?


The Heritage Foundation

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