Bloomberg Schools Flunk the Constitution

We're raising a generation that doesn't know its rights

This column is open to you, Chancellor Walcott, to tell New York students, parents, and other citizens and residents what is being done in real life, real time, to engage students in learning why Thomas Jefferson often warned that the only basic safeguards of our constitutional rights and liberties are in the people themselves.

In one of the last conversations I had with Justice William Brennan, he said to me, "Remember, pal"--he called many people "pal"--"liberty is a fragile thing."

And if you don't know what your constitutional liberties are, how will you be able to realize they're gone?

If I were teaching civics in this public school system, I would ask students to react--after they'd discovered who Jefferson, James Madison, Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black ("Don't be afraid to be free!"), et al., were--to what an underrated Supreme Court Justice, David Souter, said while declaring his retirement at the National Archives Museum on May 21, 2009: Who we are as Americans "can be lost, is being lost, it is lost." What's needed "is the restoration of the self-identity of the American people."

Imagine Thomas Jefferson in East Harlem seeing cops stopping and frisking people in total disregard of the Bill of Rights' Fourth Amendment. He'd think King George III had taken back the colonists.

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11 comments
Bridie Murphy
Bridie Murphy

The manner in which the 1st Amendment is being taught to our students is both truncated and distorted to fit the political correctness of the times. Want to know why kids are marching around the cafeteria protesting the quality and choices of food? Sitting on Wall Street? Because they have been taught in their "social studies" classes that the 1st Amendment is only about giving them the right to protest. Now we have a generation with full hearts and empty heads who are so embued with "self-esteem"and self importance... clamoring for the bigger government, regulations and to be taken care of...... Having sat on a citizen's review committee for test book adoption, I can say that civics and American history has turned into propaganda tool.

Hemmerjohn
Hemmerjohn

They remind me of the mindless Hippies in the 60's.

Old_Boy_Ntwk
Old_Boy_Ntwk

Mr. Hentoff, I am a freedom over security person and agree with you that we have sheepishly given up too many rights; however, I believe that making it an either-or proposition as far as the schools go is the wrong analysis. It's an 'and' proposition - our school system can't teach English, mathematics, science, AND they can't teach civics.

The push for standardized tests may be somewhat misguided, but it was not the cause of our slide in education, it was a response after so many years of abject failure. The education bureaucracy is overwhelmingly controlled by the liberal side of he liberal political spectrum especially in big cities such as New York. Just when will they accept their fair share of responsibility for this national disgrace?

They blame the parents, societal values, funding, government, everyone but themselves. One reason students do not understand civics is because teachers do not believe they have a civic responsibility to educate, just to protect jobs. You cannot trust any organization that refuses to police itself.

Attila
Attila

How about the Fifth, which is violated everytime we are forced to sign federal tax forms? Or the 9th and 10th which are supposed to protect us from the tyranny of a runaway and unaccountable federal government?

Dpht
Dpht

Bloomberg only cares about students' scores on standardized tests so he can say, "Look how great I've made the city schools. I've really made a difference!"Yeah Mike, you've really made a difference; now we've got a generation of kids who can pass standardized tests, but can't tell right from wrong, good from bad, wisdom from information, art from comics, music from rap, literature from facebook, ad nauseum...

TW Higginson
TW Higginson

Joel Klein and Eric Nadelstern didn't only fail to support the teaching of civics; they were contemptuous of and hostile to students who attempted to exercise their constitutional rights within schools. When students at Beacon were intensely harassed by the administration for advocating a more diverse admissions policy (e.g. a threat to ask a college to revoke admission to an already accepted senior), Klein and Nadelstern made it clear they weren't interested.

NYer in Texas Now
NYer in Texas Now

Nat Hentoff is back! I had stopped reading the VV much when you left. I am so glad to see you back here with your depth of thought and care for others.

Temple Three
Temple Three

Jefferson would have had to overcome the SHOCK of seeing Black folks voting, then he'd have to overcome the shock of women voting; then he'd have to be absolutely positive that the police were wrong; then he'd have to scour the crowds for a young hottie to replace Sally Hemmings for his next tour to Paris; then he might do what Nat said. Damn that's a weak ass ending.

jbrez
jbrez

While interviewing for a position at Harlem Success a few years ago, Eva Moskowitz asked what I thought would be an important subject to teach middle school students. I replied, civics --- she laughed in my face.

 
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