civics legislation

Senator Lamar Alexander’s bill S. 504 has now passed both houses of Congress and is on its way to the President.

Last year, I described how this bill was temporarily scuttled by Gun Owners of America, who claimed that the legislation was “anti-gun.” Their model letter to Congress said, “It will establish Presidential Academies on teaching civics and history which will use anti-gun texts like We the People — the textbook that conforms to the federal guidelines on teaching civics and history. This book encourages students to start questioning the wisdom of the Second Amendment, asking the student whether the right to keep and bear arms is still as ‘important today’ as it was in the eighteenth century and to decide what ‘limitations’ should be placed on the right. This kind of discussion treats the Second Amendment as though it were not protecting a God-given, individual right.”

In fact, the bill makes no mention of We the People, and that text is judiciously even-handed in its treatment of the Second Amendment (which is precisely the problem, from the perspective of Gun Owners of America). Anyway, Senator Alexander (R-TN) and Representative Roger Wicker (R-MI) persevered and their bill passed. According to the email announcement I received:

American History and Civics Education Act of 2004 – Authorizes the Secretary of Education to award up to 12 grants, on a competitive basis, to entities with demonstrated expertise in historical methodology or the teaching of history to establish: (1) Presidential Academies for Teaching of American History and Civics that may offer workshops for both veteran and new teachers of such subjects; and (2) Congressional Academies for Students of American History and Civics. Allows such grants to be made from funds appropriated for FY 2005 or any subsequent fiscal year for the Secretary’s Fund for the Improvement of Education.

Authorizes the Secretary to award grants to the National History Day Program to continue and expand its activities to promote the study of history and improve instruction.

Meanwhile, apparently, Senator Byrd has inserted into the omnibus federal spending bill a clause that requires all schools and colleges to devote the whole of Sept. 17 every year to teaching the Constitution. While I believe that it is helpful to study and discuss the Constitution, it would be unprecedented for Congress to mandate any allocation of school time. If the Byrd amendment passes, you can imagine days being mandated for all kinds of purposes. I would think the Constitution itself suggests a little more respect for state and local discretion.