Something to Write Home About, Jan. 24, 2021

Dear Editor,

Civics education.

It requires real effort to focus on anything but Covid-19 and the transfer of power, but life and its lesser concerns go on. A tri-partisan group of senators, including local colleagues Sen. Clarkson, Sen. McDonald, and all three Rutland County senators, are co-sponsoring S.17, a bill I’ve introduced to require Civics Education for a high school diploma. The ideological diversity of the bill’s sponsors is important because the basic foundational philosophy and institutions of our nation are bigger than our differences. Fans may disagree on whether a pitch was a ball or a strike, but we can’t play baseball unless agree that three strikes make an out. So too, we Americans may disagree on a variety of issues, but we must agree on the democratic republican ground rules for disagreeing.

At the center of this area of agreement is the U.S. Constitution, the document that constitutes our government, declares it into existence, structures it, empowers it, limits its powers, and is the binding authority on how we are constituted. The philosophical, moral foundations of our republic are institutionalized in the Constitution, and all American government is directed and limited by it. Every office holder makes an oath to uphold the Constitution. Each American’s rights and liberties are natural rights with which they are “endowed by their creator.” The Constitution identifies these rights and protects them from government violation. Our citizenry needs to know their own Constitution.

The nation is a democratic republic – lower case d and r, not referring to parties. As the name “United” States indicates, the national republic is a union of democratic republics, each with its own democratic republican constitution. These states govern themselves in part by delegating authority to various levels of municipalities, also subject to the constitutions. A democratic republic, at whatever level, cannot function democratically as a republic without the Demos, the people. Democratic, republican structures may persist, but they are hollow. No Demos, no democracy.

Education has many purposes. Certainly preparing students to support themselves and their families is a central job of our schools. That continues. But there’s nothing new about schools preparing students for citizenship. In fact, it has always been part of American education.

Bills rarely pass exactly as introduced. Legislative committees take testimony, consider studies, discuss, debate, and negotiate. I expect this to be the case with this bill. As introduced, S.17 suggests a Civics curriculum should include the philosophical concepts of unalienable rights, the contract theory of government, majority rule and minority rights, and republican and democratic principles. The bill also says the curriculum should include the separation of powers, checks and balances, federalism, and judicial review. That should get the discussion started. What do we agree on? The discussion should be lively and interesting.


Sen. Dick McCormack

Windsor County

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