December 10, 2005

Text Messages

I have some friends whose kids are in the public government schools around here. In a history class next week one of them will be watching Gladiator since they're studying ancient Rome.

A history book was given to me by a friend who graduated from a high school around here a few years back. It's called The Americans: Reconstruction through the 20th Century & it's published by McDougal Littel.

Let's take a look at it.

It does say that the British military were sent to Concord, Massachusetts in April of 1775 to collect "illegal weapons" from the colonists. And it describes those who were keeping the weapons as "Minutemen, or civilian soldiers..." but the sense is one of communally sanctioned involvement.

Still, after seeing that I was hopeful for about a minute & a quarter. I saw a section heading entitled "Civilians At War" & got really excited. I forgot myself though. Instead of talking about the militia it spoke of the women who followed their soldier husbands to battles & of slaves who escaped to freedom & Native Americans who stayed neutral.

As an aside it mentions the battle of Cowpens, South Carolina but says nary a word about The Battle of King's Mountain, North Carolina where the British army was defeated soundly & set the stage for Cowpens. Also a certain Lieutenant Colonel Ferguson was killed at King's Mountain. This is very important because he had invented a breech loading flint lock rifle (look here for pics) which, if he could have persuaded the Crown to implement on a wide scale, would have altered the course of the war against us. I can almost overlook them not mentioning the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence, but to leave King's Mountain out of the history of the American Revolution is downright shameful. Wait - I take it back. There's a map of Cornwallis' exploits in the South & there's a blue star (indicating an "American/French" victory) labeled "King's Mountain Oct. 7th 1780". Still, no details are provided in the text. The ingrates. :)

Moving on to the debates about the constitution it describes Shays's Rebellion - but paints it as a problem that could have been solved by a stronger central government. Well we all see what a strong central government has done in regards to lessening taxation don't we? Anyway it ends a paragraph with the following sentence, "Since the states had placed such severe limits on the government to prevent abuse of power, the government was unable to solve many of the nation's problems".

Re-read that please.

"Since the states had placed such severe limits on the government to prevent abuse of power, the government was unable to solve many of the nation's problems."

Subtle, isn’t it? It's implanting the idea that government is able & willing to solve the nation's problems if only we'd let it. It used the modifier "many" but it's not a stretch to deduce they meant most if not all.

In the section discussing the constitutional convention, it says that the feds were granted certain powers but other such as "...providing for & supervising education..." were left to the states. That's followed by describing the power to tax as a right. I could be wrong but I didn't think state run public education really got moving until well after the Constitution was ratified. & I know some of the folks were talking about the necessity of taxation, but I'm unaware of them talking about it as being a "right".

In a chart that have that summarized conflicts during the constitutional debate it says that those who wished for a central government viewed authority as coming from the people & that the central government should be more powerful than the states. The "strong states" side viewed power as coming from the state & that the states should be stronger than the central government. It could be that I misread or mis-remembered, or just that their summary is to brief to be accurate, but I could have sworn that the Federalists were only arguing for a stronger central government in some matters, & the Anti-Federalists viewed power coming from the people via the state.

It does mention when it comes to the part about the bill of rights that the Anti-Federalists wanted "written guarantees that the people would have freedom of speech, of the press, ...of religion...assurance of the right to trial by jury & the right to bear arms".

It continues later on (post ratification) that the "...Second & Third Amendments protect citizens from the threat of standing armies. According to these amendments the government cannot deny citizens the right to bear arms as members of a militia of citizen-soldiers..."

Just so ya know this book was published in 1999 & written by 5 people. 4 of them hold Ph.D's, the 5th a Masters. One ph.D is in Chicago. Another is at Phoenix (though degreed in California). A third ph.D is in Massachusetts (also degreed in California). The 4th is in NYC. The Masters is in New Jersey but since he was schooled in North Carolina I assume he wrote the neutral sounding stuff about the 2nd amendment.

But they tie it in to militia membership without explaining that a militia is simply any member of the body of the people capable of bearing arms. If they'd have only done that it would have almost been forgivable. But they still attempted to negate that the Right is secured to the people - not to the militia. & the Right is not acknowledged only in service in the militia, but merely that the potential of service as militia (which would include everyone capable of holding an arm of some type for the briefest duration) is the chief reason for the Right to be enumerated. In short they took an individual right held by an individual & implied it was a collective right of the organized militia.

It's no wonder the next section has as its second sentence, "It is a 'living' document, capable of meeting the changing needs of Americans". Then it goes on to justify federal expansion of power through the "elastic clause". As they describe it "...Article 1, Section 8...'to make all laws which shall be necessary & proper for carrying into execution' the powers that the constitution enumerates".

Here's Article 1 Section 8 in its entirety:

"To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof."

It describes that as an implied power that the framers felt necessary to include in the constitution so the feds could expand their authority if they needed to. & to be sure there are those, especially in government who view it as such. But my take has always been that it only granted the authority to make laws directly relevant to the powers that were delegated to the federal government & not one iota more.

It goes further to say that the constitution uses "...broad language, allowing the document to be interpreted to fit the problems at hand." & then says that the constitution can still be changed formally but the process was designed to be difficult to prevent hasty amendments!

Look, either the constitution can be changed by mere interpretation to suit a need or desire at the time or it can be amended through a slow process to quell rash decisions. If it's capable of both then the latter's reason for existence is nullified. The authors don't seem to notice this contradiction.

In the margin it contains a section explaining some constituional issues that were currently being looked at. It has this to say about a firearms related issue:

"Another issue facing the country in the 1990's has been the increased use of handguns in committing crimes. In 1993, to stem this increase, Congress passed the Brady gun-control bill, which required background checks of prospective gun buyers. The checks were to be made by local law enforcement officers. In 1997 the Supreme Court ruled in favor of state's rights, stating that Congress can't force local law enforcement officials to enforce a federal program."

Of course it does not provide any stats to back up the claim that handgun use in crime was rising. Into the early 90's I do believe that crime generally was rising, but I don't think the percentage of criminals who used handguns was increasing. In any case we're left with that assertion minus any support for it.

It takes a few years ot put a textbook together. This one was published in 1999, yet it did mention a 1997 Supreme Court decision which would lead me to believe that they should have been aware that crime in general was declining by that point. I assume in 1993 they only had stats up to 1991 so they could have said that crime in general was increasing (as I believe up to that point it was) but it's inaccurate to say that crime was increasing through the 90's (when it started to decline around the early 90's - prior to Brady being passed or implemented) & it's doubtfull that handgun crime was increasing. Well unless they count paperwork violations which just means the ATF & various police agencies were vigorously enforcing any & every unconstitutional law they could find.

They do mention "state's rights" but would it have been so hard to mention the 10th Amendment? I know the 10th is in part about state's rights, but by neglecting to mention it here it does not carry the same weight to the casual reader. It fails to show that the Supreme Court was (for a change) enforcing the constitution.

Now for the piece we've all been waiting for; the chapter entitled "The Living Constitution".

It outlines the slow, deliberate amendment process as the way the number 5 (& final) purpose the framers had was achieved (that step was to allow for change).

On the second page of this chapter is a section in a box in the margin called "Living History" which encourages thought about constitutional questions. One of the questions is as follows:

"How much, if at all, can the federal government or a state government restrict the sale of firearms?"

It does not provide an answer. It just says for the student to look up the subject in books & articles about the constitution. It suggests looking through "...the indexes of well known newspapers, such as the New York Times..." for relevant articles. That's like telling someone to ask a vulture if it's alright for a wolf to kill a sheep.

As another aside in another little box in the margin next to the body of the constitution they claim that modern day pirates are few & far between & go on to talk about pirating software. I assume it's mentioned because of Article 1 Section 8's provisions about laws concerning piracy & other sea borne felonies. But yet again they're mistaken; piracy is still alive & doing well.

After the opening pages it gives the text of the constitution with notes in the margins. I'm jumping ahead to the Amendments. It has notes for all the amendments except 7. From the 14th Amendment to the 27th Amendment it only skips the notes for one (the 25th - which deals with presidential succession). It neglects notes on the 13th Amendment (abolition of slavery) as well as the 11th (lawsuits against the states). Of the Bill of Rights it neglects the 10th (reserving all non-enumerated powers to the states or the people); the 7th (reserving trial by jury for civil cases); the 3rd (preventing quartering soldiers in a house w/o the consent of the owner during peace) & the 1rst (free speech, freedom of press, etc...)

Actually I kid. Of course they didn't neglect the 1rst amendment. But the 2nd Amendment they left without comment. You'd think that since they asked a 2nd Amendment related question a few pages prior that they'd at least have some liner notes about it. But considering how they've treated it elsewhere perhaps it's best they remained silent on the matter.

They had a note about the 20th Amendment (which moves the date of office up from March to January) but they missed 4 out of the original 10 amendments, one of which they asked a question about a few pages before. The other two questions (about a president's power to order troops into combat & what justifies a cop searching a car) are discussed next to the relevant parts of the constitution.

At the end of the chapter it suggests, as a "cooperative learning" assignment to "[t]hink about controversial issues of today, such as gun control...choose a pertinent amendment to support, eliminate or change in light of these issues. With three likeminded classmates form a team to debate your position against a group who disagrees...hold a debate...[a]llow the class to choose a winner."

I'd be very curious to know how such a debate on gun control turned out. I'll grant this is a very useful way to learn debating skills but I'm a little wary of having a majority of the class decide the winning argument. I know; that's the way society works & I might just be being paranoid, but I'm Lockean enough to not think that an individual & natural Right should ever be subject to the popular vote. Course without a majority's support Rights are very hard to enjoy, but some things should not be left to populism. Besides, could you see them suggesting that kind of debate with freedom of press or conscience as the topic?

Further on in the book it does devote several paragraphs to The Bonus Army & the role it played in that usurping socialist bastard's FDR's election. However they do not mention the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of 1943. It's a u.S. history book, but considering the pages they devoted to the Holocaust in the WW2 chapter it's neglect is noticed. It also fails to mention any of the uprisings at any of the other camps.

Of course I must point out perhaps the most glaring error of their coverage of WW2; they do not, not even once in passing, mention the Garand.

I admit I haven't read through it in its entirety. I've mainly just skimmed certain sections. I've no idea about any other good or bad points about this textbook. I do feel that it could have been written better in the sections I discussed about the topics I brought up.

This is what is being used to educate the young-ins; at least around here. Unless they have a teacher (be it a parent, friend or the kind that stands in front of a classroom for money) that leans heavily toward an individual Rights view of the 2nd Amendment & a constructionist/originalist/dead constitution view of the rest of the document it's going to be difficult to convince them later on in life that the words mean what they say.

& if they have a teacher who does not hold that the 2nd guarantees an individual Right, or that the Constitution only means whatever we want it to mean at the time our work will be that much harder.

Posted by Publicola at December 10, 2005 08:50 AM | TrackBack

I'm not shocked. The degree in which people of higher education see certain rights is sad.

Posted by: Gunner at December 10, 2005 09:09 PM