The Financial Aid Department where I am studying for a PhD in I/O Psychology sent out an email proclaiming the US Constitution a “living document”? The next section gives a blurb about Sen. Byrd’s legislative efforts through federal mandates to improve student’s knowledge of the US Constitution (USC). And a link to a website that skirts the issue of original intent. While I agree there is need for all citizens to understand the USC, I find this kind of government intrusion in my education a little irritating, especially when the institution carrying it out makes an obviously contentious statement to a vast portion of US citizens.
There are two views of legal guidance the USC gives its citizenry, one that the USC is a “living breathing document” while the other states that it is a stationary guiding document to be interpreted from its original intent, as the framers intended. Changes should only be made with the utmost care and debate. A lesson we learned the hard way with the Twenty-First Amendment. A better argument for original interpretation than I could possibly articulate is here.
My concerns about this email are more in relation to the influence the government already has in US education and the recent Title IV acknowledgment sought and received by my educational institution. I see this email from Financial Aid as an effort by one particular wing of government to steer debate towards their point of view, and as usual without alternate viewpoints. They have concluded the “living document” perspective is correct because it gives them broad power to change Constitutional rights, like exercising religious beliefs, through litigation as opposed to legislative processes that are more exposed to criticism and debate. Honestly, I am offended by this email and its overt attempt to declare debate closed by its definitive statement: “The Constitution is a living document.” It is nearly as offensive as my son’s Science book saying that “evolution is a now a proven fact”.
Higher education used to be about freedom of thought and exploring possibilities but now I fear it is more about controlling issues through such mechanisms as national accreditation and Title IV. To be fair to my institution, this email was probably just cut and pasted from some US Department of Education memorandum. Higher education however should NOT be a mouthpiece for any political side but an open and uncontrolled pursuit of truth. They erred by not including an alternative view of a presently very contentious issue.
Erik’s post this morning has encouraged me to post this experience here as well. I truly fear that education, like so many other freedoms in the US are becoming more and more controlled by government where honest debate of issues will be controlled. Control will not so much come through draconian measures of restraint but through more subtle ways of manipulating debate, declarative statements, and policies such as that mentioned by Erik. When concerned citizens bring our fears to the fore we are labeled Nazis, racists, or ignorant hicks. The same reticence that comes with being labeled as above will eventually creep into academic debate and free expression of ideas and research will then be restricted to the framework of an all powerful Dept. of Education. America is no longer on the plateau before the proverbial slippery slope, we are now on that slope.