Learning Why We're Americans

Schools fail the future when they don't teach individual liberties in the Constitution

I found similar acute interest in a sixth-grade class years ago in Ocean Hill–Brownsville when the schools there were besieged during the citywide teachers' strike. The kids kept wanting to know more as they discovered their liberties and rights.

And once, in Miami, I was asked to speak on the Constitution before a large audience of primarily black and Hispanic high schoolers. Before I went on, a teacher told me not to be disappointed in their indifference because, she said, "all they care about are clothes and music."

After more than an hour of my stories on how we got the First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendments, I got a standing ovation, because they had discovered America.

Illustration by Anthony Freda


Because of a typing error, a quote by Laurence Tribe in this column was inaccurate. We originally quoted Tribe as saying, "The more people grow accustomed to a listening environment in which the ear of Big Brother is assumed to be behind every wall, behind every e-mail, and invisibly present in every electronic communication, telephonic or otherwise, the Constitution will be mummified." The quote should have ended after "otherwise," as it now appears. The phrase "the Constitution will be mummified" was Hentoff's.

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