Constitutional Education In Honor of Constitution Week, September 17-23, 2020

Guest Editorial: Written by David Seal
David is a retired Jefferson County educator, as well as a recognized artist and local businessman. He has also served Jefferson County as a County Commissioner and is a lobbyist for the people on issues such as eminent domain, property rights, education, and broadband accessibility on the state level.

Every American citizen has different experiences, and varied points of view, with respect to the U.S. Constitution. This is a snapshot of some of my personal experiences, questions, and a few suggestions on how to improve constitutional education in this nation.

Constitutional Starvation

Six or seven years ago a senior high school student, out of the blue, not enrolled in any of my classes, stopped by my classroom at Jefferson County High School during my teacher planning period. He wanted a copy of the U.S. Constitution. Red flags went up.

Here was a senior student with abundant resources at his disposal asking me for a copy of the U.S. Constitution. While my printer was spitting out the text of the constitution, I asked him why me, why not ask a History or English teacher, or even a librarian? Obviously, he was looking for anonymity and said that other students told him that I often held discussions on the constitution in class, adding that he did not feel comfortable asking his regular teachers for a copy. I gave him his copy. From that day until my recent retirement from teaching, I handed out hundreds of copies of the constitution to students. Two important questions are raised. Why is it so difficult to discuss the constitution at school; and why was the student uncomfortable asking another teacher for a copy? I was honored that he chose me but concerned at the same time.

Exclusion, Ideology, or Time Restraints

Fast forward to post-retirement. A man whom I trust, and hold great respect for, explained to me that one of his children was directed by a teacher to remove a pocket-size copy of the U.S. Constitution from her student desk during class at Jefferson County High School, a copy that I had provided. The teacher indicated that it was a distraction to other students in the class. Really?

I ask you to consider how that teacher directive sounded to the parent later that same day, a parent who years earlier had signed a blank check, payable to the United States Government for an amount up to and including his life, to serve in the military and to uphold and defend the constitution. As you might expect, the parent was not pleased. I was not pleased either.

Is the constitution a taboo subject at school? Is fear of controversy driving the constitution into the shadows? Does teacher ideology factor in? Are teachers under such intense pressure to increase meaningless standardized test scores that little time can be spent discussing government and the constitution? Teachers do have to make a living; and their job security depends on arbitrary test scores.

State Mandated Curriculum

Government topics are covered by K-12 social studies curriculum in Tennessee public schools with less than one percent of the standards dedicated to the U.S. Constitution. This alarms me. Citizens have standing to demand better state curriculum standards in public schools. If we fail to do this, students will leave high school poorly informed about the constitution, some of which will go on to hold public office, more likely to formulate policy based on the influence of special interests than constitutional principles. The consequences will be profound.

Every school board in Tennessee should be fighting to provide teachers with the freedom to do their jobs, urging legislators to eliminate meaningless state-mandated testing, and working to improve U.S. Government curriculum. Ultimately, citizens have the responsibility to persuade school boards along this path.

Law and Order, and Chaos

I spend a lot of time in Nashville during the legislative sessions each year as a citizen activist working on legislation related to property rights and due process issues. Tennessee’s body of law is littered with unconstitutional provisions; and I give contemporary legislators (especially Conservatives) credit for making an effort to repair constitutional damage caused by general assemblies in the distant past, and credit for treating the citizens of Tennessee with respect as they exercise their First Amendment right to petition government. I have learned to appreciate the process of government and recommend more citizen activism. Our constitutional republic depends on citizen participation to influence policy and to defend the most beautiful legal document on Earth, our U.S. Constitution.