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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