National Center for Constitutional Studies
|"A primary object.should be the education of our youth in the science of government. In a republic, what species of knowledge can be equally important? And what duty more pressing.than.communicating it to those who are to be the future guardians of the liberties of the country?"
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We have recently completed another biannual trip to the Boston/New York City area with 26 wonderful high school seniors. Those who are regular readers of these letters may remember the description of our trip to the same area two years ago. But this trip seemed to emphasize to us a much different lesson.
Plymouth - Cradle of Liberty
Resting quietly along the shores of Plymouth, Massachusetts, is a little sailing vessel called the Mayflower II. It is so named because it is a replica, so far as can be determined, of the original Mayflower which brought the Pilgrims to America in 1620. The Mayflower 11 was a gift from England to the people of America. It is a treasure to visit with appreciating students.
As we boarded the small craft in bitter cold and wet weather, it was told that 102 persons plus the crew came across the Atlantic to the New World. Going quickly below deck we found a warm reception from a couple of the pilgrims and a member of the crew from 1620. What a fascinating conversation between inquisitive students and these "in character" people from nearly 400 years ago. Accounts of very crowded conditions, sicknesses, births, deaths, terrible sanitation in the bottom decks of the ship were nearly unbelievable as we huddled in the lower deck. To the 30 of us it seemed crowded. It was difficult to imagine how 102 of them did it for months.
After we had quickly left the ship in the cold wind blowing in off the Atlantic Ocean and boarded our luxurious, comfortable and warm motorcoach, I noticed a student nearly in tears. When I inquired as to the problem, she replied, "We have a warm bus to come to - they had nothing but cold bare land!" We visited Plymouth Rock (which is nothing more than just a rock) and then drove a few miles to the impressive rustic village called Plymouth Plantation. This is a recreation of the village build by the Pilgrims with families, in costume and character, doing now what they did then. Here is where a couple of our students whose family roots go back to the Mayflower families spoke to their own ancestors! But if you ask them questions about something after about 1639, they won't know what you're talking about. If you ask if they will let you take their picture, they look at their one and only water picture in the corner of their little hut and ask why you would like it! When asked about their children, it is not unusual to hear a mother tell of her giving birth to eight, nine, or ten children in order to get three or four to live. Or to have a wife tell of the death of her husband several years before and how she knows it is God's will and one day He will provide another good man for her. They speak of barely keeping alive at time during the first few months. They are always quick to give credit to God for keeping them alive and blessing them so much. Nothing I could have said in the classroom could have been as powerful a teacher as those people were that day at the Plymouth Plantation. Our hearts were softened as we felt their intense desire for liberty - to worship and believe according to their own desires and to be out from under the hand of tyranny. They didn't have much but they were so grateful to be able to enjoy their God-given rights.
Wall Street - A Paradox of Values
The very next day we found ourselves in the financial district of New York City. Wall Street represents some strong and opposing philosophies depending on what you are looking for. Our first stop on Wall Street was to the Trinity Church where many of the Founders worshipped, including Alexander Hamilton who is buried there., After our experience at the Jefferson Memorial last year my group was a little shy about singing, but the majesty of the cathedral was overwhelming and they broke into Ave Maria. It resounded in reverent tones throughout the building and all the tourists stopped to listen. Afterwards, the rector came up to them and thanked them and commented on the beauty of their harmony.
The next stop on Wall Street was Federal Hall. Here is an imposing statue of George Washington on the spot where he took the oath of office on April 30, 1789. As one enters the rotunda, there is a feeling of awe for what happened here. The government under the new Constitution was being organized. Washington's wisdom is evidenced everywhere throughout the building. It was the nation's first capitol building. The statue of Washington stands outside overlooking our next stop on Wall Street.
The J. P. Morgan Building and the New York Stock Exchange, together with the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, found not too far away, represent a much different kind of "government" than those envisioned by the pilgrims or by George Washington on American soil. These represent the very power center of the world. They are the antithesis of individual liberty and government by the consent of the people. They perform some of the very acts warned against in Washington's farewell address and yet his imposing statue is overlooking them all!
As we all met together, crowded into my hotel room the night before we returned home, we shared feelings about the week's experiences. It was clear the students preferred the serenity and freedom of Plymouth than the scene of power and control over the lives of people we saw on Wall Street that day.
"It's Because They Know the Principles"
These same students are part of a larger class I teach entitled "The Healing of America". Local mayoral and city council elections have recently occurred in our city and it provided an opportunity for me to invite candidates into the classroom to visit with my students, about a third of whom are registered voters.
This was another one of those amazing experiences that accomplished what I had hoped for far beyond what I thought it would. Each candidate came on his or her own appointed day. Most of them thought they would give their ten to fifteen minute prepared speech and perhaps answer a few general questions and then be off. All the speeches were well prepared and impressive. It would have been difficult to decide whom to vote for based on the speeches. But my students understand basic principles of good government, and so, no matter what office each was running for, the students wanted to know who had the correct understanding of these basic principles. The inquiry was amazing. One of the questions usually asked of each candidate was, "How do you define unalienable rights?" We could tell by the immediate reaction of most, they had never been asked that before and most had never studied that concept before. One candidate, a trained lawyer, took about five minutes to give his reply and never did give a correct answer. In fact of the six candidates the students interviewed, only two of them understood the concept at all!
Another favorite question centered on the source of authority in government. When asked where government gets its authority each correctly replied from the people. But when asked if the people don't have the authority to do something as individuals, how can they then delegate that authority to their agent the government, the most revealing answers were given about the candidates' philosophy of governmental power. Most of them replied that that was the purpose of voting--to create authority and power as a group and give it to government! The students soon were able to detect this most dangerous and liberal philosophy which had permeated nearly every candidate. Such an idea destroys the whole concept of limited government by the consent of the governed. It is a basic principle set forth in the Declaration of Independence and understood by few Americans today. Once again, nothing I could have said during classroom discussions could have driven home these concepts any stronger to their minds than those interviews with candidates. With the basic questions they were able to get past the political rhetoric and determine which would make the most fit public servants. As I escorted one candidate out of the building and thanked him for coming, he commented that he had never met a group like that before and he asked how they came to ask such unusual questions. My reply was: "It's because they know the principles."
Announcing "The Making of America" High School Study Course
NCCS is pleased to make available for the first time a complete teaching curriculum on Dr. Skousen's magnificent book, The Making of America. This is identified in our new catalogue as American Government and U. S. Constitution: Part 11, You recall Part I is the 27 lesson curriculum on The Five Thousand Year Leap which discusses the 28 Principles of Liberty. Part 11 on The Making of America contains 47 lessons and is video taped right in the classroom. We have gone to the additional work and expense of having an notes which the student should take dubbed right into the video tape as the discussion proceeds so that each lesson is self-contained and can be used at home as well as in the classroom. Our curriculum pack-age contains daily reading assignments, quizzes, examinations, and suggestions for additional student assignments and projects. The introductory material explains how it may be used in nearly any setting whether it be home or school and whether it be an intense semester or a full year course.
I consider The Making of America a great masterpiece. It is the "granddaddy" of all books on the United States Constitution. One has to briefly look at the bibliography on pages 777-779 to appreciate the sources used. While I consider myself a serious student of the Constitution, to think of having to digest all the writings of the Founders, including The Federalist Papers, the Convention notes, and the ratification debates, and many other original sources, is mind-boggling. I am grateful to Dr. W. Cleon Skousen, ' who for several decades painstakingly studied these books and carefully classified the Founders thinking into topics and sub-topics. The final product represents not only the thinking but also the very words of the Founders on every detail and idea in the Constitution, both large and small. It is the Founders who are explaining why they put each idea into the document and the meaning they wanted us to understand behind each idea.
I think it is also significant that this book was published in 1985, just in time for the Bicentennial of the Constitution in 1987. For many years, we have been drifting away from the Founders' original intent. Some very powerful forces have been at work trying to get Americans to accept different ideas and new meanings behind the provisions in the Constitution. A study of The Making of America will put to rest these false political ideas and will illuminate once again the brilliance of the Founders original success formula that we call the Constitution of the Untied States.
On a number of occasions, when concerned Americans, including some legislators, have called me on the phone searching for an answer or explanation of some governmental or political matter, I have usually begun my reply with, "Do you have your copy of The Making of America handy?" We then can usually find the answer to their inquiry given by one or more of the Founders themselves!
As I said in introduction to Part 1, I have grown to love to teach these principles to young people. They seem to be able to easily recognize the hypocrisy of many situations in public life today and they are searching for answers. There is no greater reward a teacher can have than to see his students come alive to the freedom story and begin to identify with and think like America's Founding Fathers. As they do, they begin to ask, "Why are we not doing this today?" They also carry the feeling of these principles into their homes. I have had many parents express to me that they have never had such interesting and informative family discussions than since their high school student began telling what he or she was learning about the Founding Fathers.
Young people seem to quickly develop an intense interest in current events when approached in the right way. Not only are they interested, they are able to dissect the situation and describe the correct solution to many problems that exist in America today.
Is there any more important subject to have our young people learn in our time than that of being able to restore and preserve our liberty? I think not. As Cicero said, there is something godly about this endeavor.
Can any other knowledge be more helpful to the rising generation in America today? America desperately needs better and stronger leaders. We need leaders who know correct answers. I believe this course is a giant step forward in preparing such leaders. I congratulate any teacher for catching the vision and teaching these precepts. We heartily agree with Benjamin Franklin who said any teacher, who has recognized within himself the talent to teach young people, "is as strongly called as if he heard a voice from heaven."
May God richly bless our efforts.