Students prove Electoral College Really Works
All of us enjoy receiving good news. Sometimes it is totally surprising to us and other times it may be something we already know but enjoy it being confirmed to us that, indeed, it really is the way we always thought it to be. Let us share with you some good news of the latter kind. It refers to subjects we addressed in our July 1999 and December 2000 newsletters.
Youth Prove Founders' Electoral College is Best Way to Choose Leaders
As principal of a charter high school, I have been increasingly wary of the way high school students choose their student body leaders. There's the announcing, the petition signature gathering, the filing, the campaigning, the signs and buttons, the politicking, the campaign speeches, the empty promises (like putting root beer in all the drinking fountains!), the giving away candy in hopes of getting votes, and on and on. Somewhere along the line, we have been led to believe that this is all to teach our young people how it is in real life, so that when they grow up, they will know just how to do it! Some would say we have been pretty successful, because that's basically what happens in real life.
This "real life" is also getting tiring, and as we saw last November, it is also getting dangerous. We are beginning to realize that all this campaigning and political parties and conventioning and packaging of candidates to look good on TV and promises to get votes-all this-just seems inconsistent with the sacredness associated with people choosing those in whom they will put their trust for their rights, their liberties, and for their protection.
As a teaching technique we decided we would instigate an Electoral System in our school for the choosing of student body officers. This would be patterned after the Founders' plan for the election of a president. We hoped that at least somewhere there would be a group of people who would begin to see the wisdom of the Founders in this procedure.
When I discussed this with the present student council and then with the student body at large, a few were quite vocal in their opposition. "How could you even think of having an election of student body officers without the privilege of campaigning", one asked. Some of the other questions were: "What if someone needs to convince others to vote for him?" "What if someone enjoys expressing their creativity through campaigning for votes?" "How do you know that the new officers will be any good?" "What if the Electoral College makes bad choices?" "How can you think of taking away the right to choose who will represent us?" "Isn't it more democratic to have everyone vote?"
I soon realized that what I was hearing were the same arguments that we hear out in the "real world" for getting rid of the electoral college. Having a strong confidence in the Founders' wisdom, I asked the present officers to try this new system and just see what works best. They agreed.
Each of the eighteen homeroom classes then chose one from among them to be the elector for the class. When the electors met for the first time to receive their instructions, I was amazed at how seriously each one of them took the responsibility. To think that their fellow students had given them the task of finding and eventually choosing next year's officers was sobering indeed. There were a couple of students among the group whom I wondered about because they had been in to see me on some minor matters during the year. Nevertheless, their peers had chosen them to do this task. I continued to have faith in the Founders' wisdom.
It wasn't long before a list had been assembled of those the electors felt were the best candidates to be considered. Because of the time commitment involved the electors asked for those students who would like to serve to let it be known within a week's time period. The electors also sought out students on their own and asked them to consider serving. The whole flavor of the process began to change when the language was, "would you consider serving if selected" rather than "would you like to run for office." It immediately took away all the images of campaigning and vote-getting. Instead these students began to think in terms of what they could do to serve.
The next step was the interview process. I sat in on only one of the sessions where electors were interviewing the candidates. I was thrilled to witness the process. Only one candidate at a time was interviewed. This was not a debate, trying to see who had the best answers memorized or who could outwit the other. It was a probe into the thinking of each person. Insightful questions were asked pertaining to the goals and objectives of our school and the ideas each one has in furthering the school's goals and student involvement. It was exciting to hear the questioners probe into the feelings of the candidates concerning our school's dress and behavior code to make sure the thinking was solid in those areas. Again, it was a sight to behold as I witnessed real leadership coming to the top. It reminded me of what Jefferson said in that we need to provide a system to skim off the natural aristoi and put them into leadership positions.
After several days had passed and all the interviewing was complete, the actual election was held. This was not a school wide election. The students had chosen their electors to choose the leaders. So the electors met and a secret ballot vote was conducted. It was a very solemn occasion. Surely each was feeling the weight of the responsibility. When the ballots were all in a committee from the electors, along with some current officers and a faculty advisor all met to open and count the votes. At the end of the day, the results were announced over the intercom to all the school. The electoral college had done their best and it seemed to be very well accepted by the whole school.
We now have new student leaders for the next year. All of this was done without hype, without campaigning, without empty promises, and without candidates having to spend any money or time on signs, speeches, etc. Amazing
A couple of students who were in the electoral college came to me later and said they had really resisted this new method at first. But after having been through the process they felt like it was the best way to do it. They said it was a real opportunity for them to experience what the Founders meant when they set up such a system for the choosing of a president of the Untied States. As a teacher, I have to say, "Chalk another one up for the Founders!"
One More Visit to the Thomas Jefferson-Sally Hemings Controversy
You will remember that a certain report in Nature magazine concluded that Thomas Jefferson did father children by one of his slaves, Sally Hemings. This appeared just as charges were being investigated concerning former President Clinton's extramarital affairs. Then, as though to add credibility to the Nature article, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation reached the same conclusion in January 2000 just as a major $100 million fundraising campaign was launched by the Foundation. These two announcements now seem to have been hastily made for reasons other than to find the truth about Thomas Jefferson.
Now, more than a year later, we welcome the results of a team of scholars who have issued a report on those reports. Rather than delve into the details of the scholarly work in this letter, we direct your inquiry to the website of the Thomas Jefferson Heritage Society at www.tjheritage.org. We give here some excerpts and summaries of several articles that help us to understand the shaky foundation on which the original assumptions were made.
As Eyler Robert Coates says in his critical analysis:
"On January 26, 2000, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation announced that it had reached a conclusion concerning the Jefferson-Hemings controversy. Their basic finding was that there is "a high probability that Thomas Jefferson fathered Eston Hemings, and that he most likely was the father of all six of Sally Hemings' children.' However, an examination of this report and the methodology used in preparing it, shows it to be an unprofessional, unscientific accumulation of bias and prejudice, and an offense to the memory of the great man that this foundation was chartered to memorialize.
"One would expect the Foundation at least to give Thomas Jefferson the benefit of the doubt in the face of the many scurrilous attacks that have been made on his character over the years, for which there is not one shred of direct evidence. But as we shall demonstrate below, the exact opposite is the case. The best evidence was suppressed or ignored, competent persons having opposing views were not consulted, and many alternative but reasonable explanations for the circumstantial evidence were disregarded. As the reader of this analysis will clearly see, it is obvious that the entire controversy was approached, not as advertised (and as Jefferson had written), 'to follow truth wherever it may lead.' Rather, there was a deliberate attempt to select and mold the evidence to fit a pre-selected theory and to avoid anything that might resemble genuine balance. The results and conclusions became precise illustrations of something that Jefferson had written on a different occasion:
'The moment a person forms a theory, his imagination sees, in every object, only the traits which favor that theory.' --Thomas Jefferson to Charles Thompson, 1787.
"This travesty of a report sees in every point only those aspects that favor the preconceived theory. It leaves unconsidered much evidence that would tend to exonerate Jefferson, and it avoids connecting different pieces of evidence that would point away from Thomas Jefferson to some other member of his family or household.
James P. Lucier, in an article entitled The Fable of Tom and Sally in a recent issue of Insight Magazine, gives his observations as follows:
"The report issued by an in-house committee at Monticello seemed clear enough. The committee said its review of the subject 'indicates a high probability that Thomas Jefferson fathered Eston Hemings, and that he most likely was the father of all six of Sally Heming's children appearing in Jefferson's records.' Rather than being embarrassed by the new twist, the authors concluded that 'the implications of the relationship between Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson should be explored and used to enrich the understanding and interpretation of Jefferson and the entire Monticello community.' Thus was born a new Jefferson for a new age. Shortly thereafter, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation dropped the word 'Memorial' from its name.
"Critics noted that the membership of the in-house committee included very few names of persons experienced in analysis of historical data. It was chaired by Dianne Swann-Wright, a Ph.D. candidate still struggling to write her dissertation. She apparently has published no peer-reviewed work and nothing on Jefferson himself. After repeated phone inquiries, she promised to call back with examples of her work but never did. In other writing, she has portrayed herself as a child of the civil-rights generation, identifying with the four young girls brutally murdered in the bombing of a church in Birmingham, Ala. Critics have charged that she was overly influenced by the work of Annette Gordon-Reed, whose book Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy , seemed to provide a road map for the subsequent Monticello study.
"Other members included an architect, an archaeologist, a geneticist, the head guide and a communications officer. A medical doctor wrote a dissenting report, only to have it ignored when the majority report was first published. The only recognized historian in the group was staff researcher Lucia Stanton, known for her meticulous work on Jefferson's notebooks.
"But now after a year of study and deliberations a committee of 13 distinguished scholars - the cream of U.S. historical researchers - has released a 565-page report demonstrating in a gentlemanly way that almost all of Monticello's presumptions are thin at best and based on shoddy scholarship, improbable assumptions and even doctored documents. The report was unanimous, although one professor expressed several minority reservations.
"Moreover, another rebuttal issued at the same time by a third group, the Thomas Jefferson Heritage Society, took a tougher attack based on firsthand accounts of dissidents from the Monticello group as well as legal and philosophical arguments.
"Is this just a tempest in an academic teapot? Not so, according to experts interviewed by Insight; it is a battle for the interpretation of America's heritage and the way future generations view the founders of the nation. University of Virginia law professor Robert Turner, chairman of the distinguished scholars committee, is a man who cares deeply about such things. 'For a few weeks, I thought the Monticello report was right,' he tells Insight. 'But I went to a luncheon, and as we went around the room everybody said it was a poor piece of work. Then I downloaded it from the Web, and it read like an advocacy piece. I've been studying Jefferson for close to 30 years and I thought he deserved a fair hearing.'
"Then Turner began to put together the group of Jefferson scholars to examine the evidence piece by piece -authors mostly with several Jefferson books to their credit, history department chairmen, directors of graduate studies. 'We had a diverse group,' says Turner. 'I wanted people of exceptional ability. But I also wanted people of courage. I told them I don't care what you think, but you must agree to pursue the truth.'
"The scholars examined the evidence individually, then got together for 15 hours of face-to-face meetings. 'We have found most of the arguments used to point suspicion toward Thomas Jefferson to be unpersuasive and often factually erroneous,' they wrote. 'Not a single member of our group, after an investigation lasting roughly one year, finds the case against Thomas Jefferson to be highly compelling, and the overwhelming majority of us believe it is very unlikely that he fathered any children by Sally Hemings.'"
Let's chalk another one up for the Founders!
Earl Taylor, Jr.