Here is an article by Earl Taylor, Jr. that appeared in the January newsletter by the National Center for Constitutional Studies. To subscribe to this free email newsletter, click on the NCCS banner at the bottom of the page.
Missionaries for the Constitution
At the conclusion of our semester long study of the Constitution, I normally give my students a final exam consisting of having them write a description of all the articles, sections and clauses of the document. This year, however, I thought I would see how capable these high school seniors were in teaching adults out in the real world and defending the constitutional principles we have been studying. Here is how it happened.
Each of the 42 students were given ten copies of the NCCS's newly published version of the Constitution featuring George Washington on the front cover offering a pen for a person to pledge his support of this document. Each was also given ten pledge cards. The assignment was to find ten (10) persons, age 21 or older, with no more than two in their own household, and teach each one of them a separate substantive concept contained in the Constitution and then ask them to pledge to support the Constitution and to read the pamphlet given to them. The last part of their assignment was to report orally to the class of their experiences.
The results were amazing. Not only did the students accept this assignment enthusiastically (after all, who wants to take another classroom test!) but they began to feel the excitement of being advocates for freedom. I found that in challenging them to go out and be teachers they could gain the valuable lessons needed in asking and answering questions in a real-life environment.
Some were extremely successful; others found some real challenges. But in any event they realized just how difficult it is to sell freedom, even to some close family members. One student expressed the thought of several when she remarked, "I feel like we are being missionaries for the Constitution."
Teaching Substantive Constitutional Provisions As Dr. Skousen points out in The Making of America, the Constitution consists of 286 separate and distinct provisions. Many of them are rather simple, procedural provisions such as how old one needs to be to be a senator or representative, or how many votes are needed to pass a bill, etc. For the most part, these procedural provisions have not been tampered with over the years.
When a student takes a government course required to graduate from high school, these are usually the only provisions which are studied, along with political parties and the current polluted election processes. A student then thinks they have studied the Constitution. But then there are the real substantive provisions such as the separation of powers, checks and balances, the electoral process, the election of senators by state legislatures, the bill of rights prohibitions on the federal government, limited and enumerated powers, lawmaking limited only to Congress, etc. These are the meat, the sinew, and the fundamental organs of the Constitution which have been eviscerated over the last two centuries. These are the provisions which are seldom taught in the public schools nowadays.
As you read these comments, remember that before studying the Constitution, our students became well acquainted with the 28 Principles of Liberty outlined in The Five Thousand Year Leap, which basic beliefs provided the Founders a solid basis on which to then build the Constitution. Here is a sampling of comments made by our students as they gave their reports to the class about their experiences in teaching substantive constitutional provisions to ten people:
"I was amazed how much people don't know about the Constitution."
"My mother invited some friends over to help decorate our home for Christmas and I took advantage of the opportunity to talk to them about the Constitution. They were so interested that it completely diverted their attention for quite a while. It was fun to teach them and they seemed quite interested, coming from a person as young as I was!"
"At first my dad didn't believe anything I said, but as we continued to discuss the various points I had prepared, he seemed to warm up to them and I feel he gained a greater respect for the Constitution and for what we are learning in this school."
"My brother is going to law school. We had a great discussion and he told me that he never learned this stuff even in law school."
"We had a lot of people over for Thanksgiving and I talked to several of my aunts and uncles while were all sitting around. Some of them were really interested and some weren't, but it was thrilling to be able to talk intelligently about current events. They didn't know how really off base our government has become. They told me they would read the Constitution again and get ten others to do the same."
"I spoke to several about the limitation of powers, and how the Congress had the power to do only about 20 things. I showed them in the Constitution where they are outlined and then pointed out that, for example, many of our country's current activities in the world are unconstitutional. We shouldn't be letting the president do a lot of things he is doing without proper authority."
"I taught my grandpa about the danger of entangling alliances and how the Constitution does not give authority for giving away huge amounts of taxpayer money in foreign aid to other countries and does not authorize being involved in the United Nations to the extent we are. He agreed with me and was thrilled I was learning about this."
"We discussed the Electoral College and how the Founders set up our system to avoid the very problems with electing a president that we saw in the last (Bush-Gore) election. She was amazed the Constitution had answers to such problems."
"I discussed the real meaning of the First Amendment and how the Founders' intent was to prevent the federal government from establishing a state religion and that it no way was to prevent the states or local cities or school boards from encouraging religious instruction in the schools."
"I read some of the Founders' quotes to my grandparents about the real meaning of the Second Amendment - the right to keep and bear arms - and how it was meant to keep citizens armed and ready for duty if called upon."
One student, who is taking concurrent college classes reported: "When we discuss things in our college classes, most people just express an opinion from what they have heard. They have no real basis for a good discussion. Sometimes they ask me how I know so much about things, since I am the only one who seems to be able to add substantive reasoning to our discussion."
And so it continued for about three hours of class time. There is nothing more thrilling to a teacher than to hear these young students give these reports. It really is the kind of reward every teacher seeks.
Early Missionaries for Freedom Several years ago, NCCS published a pamphlet entitled, God's Hand in the Founding of America as Acknowledged by Early Clergymen of the United States, by Michael Loyd Chadwick. It contained numerous quotes from James Hutchinson Smylie's American Clergymen and the Constitution of the United States. When one thinks about being missionaries for the Constitution and for freedom, one must include this group of early American clergymen among the most successful. For example:
A Plea to God to Inspire the Delegates at the Constitutional Convention During the very time the Founding Fathers were busy preparing the new constitution in Philadelphia in the summer of 1787, William Rogers, a Baptist clergyman, attached a prayer to an oration that was also delivered in Philadelphia. Therein he stated: 'As this is a period, O Lord! big with events, impenetrable by any human scrutiny, we fervently recommend to the Fatherly notice that August Body, assembled in this city, who compose our Federal Convention; will it please Thee, O Thou Eternal I Am! to favour them from day to day with immediate presence; be thou Their Wisdom and Their Strength! Enable them to devise such measures as may prove happily instrumental for healing all divisions and promoting the Good of the great Whole; incline the hearts of All the people to receive with pleasure, combined with a determination to carry into execution, whatever these thy servants may wisely recommend; That the United Sates of America may furnish the World with One example of a free and permanent government, which shall by the result of human and mutual deliberation, and which shall not, like all other government, whether ancient or modern, spring out of Mere Chance or be established by Force. May we triumph in the cheering prospect of being completely delivered from anarchy, and continue, under the influence of republican virtue, to partake of all the blessings of cultivated and civilized society.'
God's Preparation for the Millennium The early clergymen's' eyes were continually toward the millennium and they felt America was to play a key role in its beginning. They felt that the hand of Providence was carefully guiding the destiny of the American nation toward this goal.
Concerning the clergymen and the millennium, James H. Smylie remarks: 'America was the stage, the theater, on which God was working out his plans for the whole creation. Ministers all over America would have agreed with the claim of the Baptists of the Warren Association in their circular letter of 1784, 'that America is reserved in the mind of JEHOVAH, to be the grand theatre on which the divine redeemer will accomplish glorious things.'
Clergymen emphasized two things about this American theater. 'On the one hand, the stage had been prepared by God himself. A few clergymen called attention to the fact that God had concealed America until the fifteenth century, had predestined America's preservation, and then guided Columbus to its discovery. Thus Oliver Hart, in a Thanksgiving Day Sermon in New Jersey, included in his exclamation of astonishment at the 'great, unexpected, and marvelous things' God had wrought for America, its discovery by Columbus. When Columbus landed on American soil, he added, it was 'intended in Providence, no doubt, for a theatre of great and marvelous events.' James Madison, in Virginia, ventured the opinion that God waited to disclose America 'until the destined period had arrived for the regeneration of mankind, in this new world.'
God's Greatest Works to Appear in America Thomas Brockway stated that the latter day glory was about to appear: 'Empire, learning and religion have in past ages, been traveling from east to west, and this continent is their last western stage; and the great Pacific ocean which bounds their further progress in this direction. Here then is God erecting a stage, on which to exhibit the great things of his kingdom, the stage is spacious, the territory extensive, such as no other part of the globe can equal; and here from the analogy of reason, and the unusual course of divine providence, we may expect God's greatest works. And no doubt this interesting revolution of American independence is a leading step; the world is far advanced in age, from prophecy it is apparent that the latter day glory is at no great distance. And when we consider above three thousand miles of western territory, the most fertile part of America, yet uninhabited: Can we suppose this vast region designed merely for the beasts of prey.' (America Saved, or Divine Glory Displayed, pp. 23-24; as quoted by Smylie, pp. 411-412.)
Could we not join our young students and the early clergymen in America in being greater advocates for freedom and the Constitution during 2003? America's destiny is still to fully blossom. Should we not meet today's challenges and temper today's fears with the same enthusiasm for freedom, and by exercising that same degree of faith in the Almighty which was manifested by those who went before us. Let us stay true to their trust in us and to America's divine destiny.