Woman: “Well, Doctor, what have we got — a Republic or a Monarchy?”
Benjamin Franklin: “A Republic, if you can keep it."
Historians aren't certain whether Benjamin Franklin ever had the above exchange after the Constitutional convention in 1787, but whether or not he did, the sentiment behind it is all too correct.
The Constitution is at the same time resilient and fragile. It has endured for some 225 years and is in many regards remarkably unchanged. Yet a piece of paper, no matter how revered, is only as strong as the people who revere it. In my own very small way, that's where I come in.
I teach Government at a high school a little ways outside of Davis. If I had to pick one theme for the course I've designed, it would easily be the U.S. Constitution itself. Through that lens we can examine the history of political thought as it influenced the drafting of the Constitution, the convention and the early years of the Republic, the court system and the Bill of Rights, the political parties and our American democracy, the presidency, the Congress, the nature of our civic society, and so much more.
I must be blunt that at first, teaching the Constitution to high schoolers appears to be about as easy as it was to create and ratify it. (It was a difficult, prolonged, and intense debate, for those of you who are a bit rusty on your late 1780s political history.) But I actually find it surprisingly simple, as most riddles are when you see the answer. The trick is in the Preamble: How do "the blessings of liberty" impact the lives we lead today?
Most of the classes my social science credential enables me to teach are history of course, and I firmly believe in their relevance to modern life. But, teaching Government makes connecting the content with the students so effortless that I don't think I've ever once overheard a student say, "But when am I actually going to need to know this?"
Even the struggling students know they should know. Last school year I worked closely with a student during lunch who was not on track to graduate in June. A foster kid, he received far too many F's over the years, struggling with basic reading comprehension and feeling left out as classes moved too quickly, a rough childhood holding him down.
But this student passed Government, because he took the time to come in and work with me. In one project alone, we debated the Supreme Court's "imminent lawless action" interpretation of the First Amendment, what constitutes an "unreasonable" search and seizure, and the progress America had made or not in the march toward racial equality.
At the other end of the spectrum, a successful lesson involves a barrage of questions from all sorts of students: on our rights, on the government's power to help and to hurt, on bizarre hypotheticals and confounding conundrums of political life in everyday America.
My answer, in some form or another, usually ties back to the Constitution. It had better, because only with an informed and educated citizenry will that sacred, faded document keep the vitality it had 225 years ago.
R. Olson is the former director of communications for the Yolo GOP. Communicate your love of the Constitution to firstname.lastname@example.org.