Beienburg: Schools ought to be teaching founding principles

Posted 2/15/21

Tens of millions of children watched last month as Joe Biden swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. Yet more and more of America’s schools are grooming their students to do just the opposite.

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Beienburg: Schools ought to be teaching founding principles


Tens of millions of children watched last month as Joe Biden swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States.

Yet more and more of America’s schools are grooming their students to do just the opposite: to ignore or despise the Constitution as an obstacle to “justice” and “progress.” All the while, parents are left to guess and gamble about which kind of messaging their children will receive if they enroll at a given school.

But thanks to newly proposed legislation, parents may soon gain the right to see for themselves — and to seek options accordingly.

To understand what’s taking place, consider the Tucson Unified School District, which serves over 40,000 students and is one of the largest public school districts in Arizona. When TUSD released its “American Government Week 1” pandemic learning materials in 2020, the single stated learning objective read as follows: “Students will be able to: [identify] components of a well-functioning constitutional republic, including concepts such as democratic principles, constitutional rights, and human rights.”

That’s a noble goal. Except that the learning guide’s two-page syllabus virtually ensures students can do anything but. For example, seven of the 11 vocabulary words deemed most essential to students’ grasp of the principles of America’s constitutional republic were “boycott,” “civil disobedience,” “Jim Crow,” “stand your ground,” “lynching,” “segregation,” and, perhaps most bizarrely, “COINTELPRO (Counter Intelligence Program): a series of covert and, at times, illegal projects conducted by the U.S. FBI aimed at surveilling, infiltrating, discrediting and disrupting American political organizations & program[s].”

Again, this was week one of understanding American government.

Then, after presenting to students its shortlist of materials, including readings and videos such as “The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution,” “Chicano! Fighting for Political Power,” Malcolm X’s speech “The Ballot or the Bullet,” and “The Constitution and the Political Legacy of Slavery,” TUSD encourages students to consider: “Is it the people or the U.S. Constitution that protects the rights of American citizens?” It’s not too difficult to see that students will be gently guided to concluding that street activism protects their rights, whereas the Constitution simply impedes them.

And while the Constitution and the Bill of Rights at least made the cut to be included in the district’s learning syllabus, neither is even a required resource. A student who instead picks from the grab bag of other resources isn’t even required or expected ever to set eyes upon either founding document. Even the final “assessment” gives students the choice as to whether to bother learning anything about the Constitution outside the Bill of Rights.

“[Explain] one of the following topics: A) The importance of the U.S. Constitution to American society, or B) The role that political action or court litigation has had on fulfilling the guarantees of the Bill of Rights for people of color.”

Catch that? Explain the importance of the Constitution or celebrate the importance of political action and court litigation.

But at least for the students who chose to view the Black Panther video instead of reading the Constitution itself, they’ll be treated to inspiring messages like: “We[’re] not going to get nothing…by sitting around here doing these sit-in demonstrations… How are we going to do it? By violence. Violence. By having a revolution. That’s with blood, you know. Let everybody bleed a little bit.”

TUSD is free to teach in its own way, but parents must have more than a one-time, fleeting glimpse of what’s actually tucked into their schools’ stated curriculum materials, the way they have with schoolchildren at home during the pandemic.

That’s why the Goldwater Institute is supporting new academic transparency legislation in states like Arizona. State Senator Nancy Barto has sponsored Senate Bill 1058 to require schools to fully disclose, online, the content that’s actually going into children’s classroom learning so parents can see what’s being taught before they’re forced to make an enrollment decision.

As a prior Goldwater policy report on this subject has made clear, it’s high time that legislators shine a light on our schools and help encourage them to promote academic excellence, rather than contribute to the undermining of confidence in America’s constitutional republic.

Matt Beienburg is the Director of Education Policy and Director of the Van Sittert Center for Constitutional Advocacy at the Goldwater Institute.