Monday, July 31, 2006
Michael Boucher forwarded this post to King concerning the new Florida education standards. It prompted a lively debate, especially about the Declaration of Independence. I posted some comments, but here are a couple of my own thoughts on the subject.
1. It seems that the debate over the Declaration of Independence is a proxy for the larger cultural war over church and state. Some conservatives fight to emphasize the Declaration, thinking that its references to God will aid their goal of a larger role for religion in public life. Some liberals oppose the Declaration as part of a school curriculum because they see it as contrary to their goal of lessening the role of religion in public life. It is almost a circular argument: The Declaration is not an important founding document because it references religion, and we are a secular nation; we know that we are a secular nation because all of the important founding documents omit references to God. As I see it, the question should be whether the Declaration is worthwhile for schoolchildren to learn about.
2. Although I am a lawyer, I am not sure what is meant by the Declaration of Independence being a "legal document" or not. Opponents of teaching the Declaration in schools claim that it is not a legal document and, therefore, it should not be part of a public school curriculum. I think that they are trying to claim that it is not legally binding. Fair enough, but there are many outdated and overruled documents that are nonetheless part of a lesson plan. Is the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution still in effect and binding? Should schoolchildren learn about it even if it is no longer binding?
3. The Declaration of Independence can be a jumping off point for discussion of many other issues. Mr. Boucher talks about popular sovereignty versus national sovereignty, for example. This seems like a worthwhile concept to be taught in schools. Indeed, even Boucher suggests that any ninth grader knows that the Declaration extols the former rather than the latter. This assumes, of course, that his/her social studies teacher had the wisdom to include the Declaration in the lesson plan.
4. How does one study the Gettysburg Address or Reverend King's I Have a Dream speech without mentioning the Declaration of Independence? There are many points to be drawn from the Declaration, not just a narrow political or religious agenda.
5. The old Florida standards included the Declaration of Independence. See page 22 of this document to read the actual changes in a redline version. Is this really such a radical change?
My apologies to King for stirring the pot. I will turn in my tweed jacket upon request.