Tony Woodlief: What Would the Founders Teach?

Roundup: Talking About History

Tony Woodlief is president of the Bill of Rights Institute, a nonprofit organization dedicated to educating students about the words and ideas of the founders.

There has been ample tongue-clucking about abysmal student scores on the civics and history portions of the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), but the real scandal has gone unnoticed. It is certainly a shame that two-thirds of fourth-graders and nearly three-quarters of eighth-graders don’t know the purpose of the Declaration of Independence, and that over half of America’s high-school seniors score below the basic level on history. What’s worse, however, is that some of what students are expected to know about the principles of the American Founding is at odds with what the founders themselves believed.

Fourth-graders, for example, are given a summary of the introduction to the Declaration of Independence that says citizens “are given certain rights.” This passive construction elides mention of the Creator, and leaves students to assume that our rights come from some person or government. Worse still, when asked to identify an idea articulated in this summary, the “correct” answer students are expected to choose is that “people in the United States should have some control over the government.” Some.

The notion that people should have “some” control over the government would be news indeed to the authors of the Declaration, who insisted that “it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish” government when it “becomes destructive” of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” ...

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