Tag Archives: constitution

The Incomplete Constitution

by Charles Cooper

The Constitution is the greatest protector of rights ever penned by man’s hands. Simply by being a written Constitution, the document professes to be a touch-stone of liberty. Like a rule book, if you want to know if someone is cheating in the game of government, you simply read the rule book. Further, the genius that the American Founders invested into the U.S. Constitution becomes more and more apparent the closer it is scrutinized. The executive is the only nationally elected office, the Senate originally represented the states, and the House represents the communities within the states. Each level of the American experience is represented in our national government. The staggered elections of two, four, and six years keep emotion from seeping into the machinery too quickly. The list of wonderful mechanisms literally goes on and on: checks and balances, federalism, the amendment process, etc. incomplete constitution

There is a glaring and often overlooked weakness or absence, however. Even before the attachment of the Bill of Rights and certainly after its inclusion, the U.S. Constitution claims/ed to protect individual rights. At the core of this venerable document the most important term, “right”, remains undefined. In other words, the U.S. Constitution claims to protect “rights”, but does not define the term. So, one can ask, what exactly is the Constitution protecting?

To answer this question we must return to its inspiration; its spirit.

The Declaration of Independence does outline and establish an understanding of the term “Right”, but it will take more than a simple pedestrian effort to fully understand what Thomas Jefferson and, by extension, the Founding generation meant. The Declaration has embedded within it a deep, complex teleological argument thousands of years in the making.

As Jefferson states in his May 8th, 1825 letter to Henry Lee, the Declaration’s authority rests on such things as the conversations of the day as well as the teachings of philosophic figures such as Aristotle1 . To flesh this out, let’s unpack one seemingly simple part of the Declaration of Independence: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.

The Declaration states that “We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” A useful “trick” I use when unpacking text I am familiar with is to walk, roughly, in reverse through the sentence or argument. So, in this case, we notice that our list of rights is categorized as “unalienable Rights” and that is prefaced by the word “among.” This denotes that there are more Rights that we are born with, but for some reason Jefferson (and by extension, the Founders…it was a unanimous vote to approve the document after all) have decided to rest on these three. There is a larger pool of other rights out there, but these three are crucial2. We must excavate via questions.

First, “Why these three?” These three rights, taken as a whole, define what it is to be a human being. To clarify what I am getting at, let us make a list of things that possess the first attribute “life”: broccoli, dogs, trees, humans, and squid. All of these things are alive. Now let us throw in the next right that is mentioned: liberty. Life mixed with liberty strikes broccoli and trees from our list since they do not have locomotion. So far, dogs, humans and squid have made the cut. Add to this list, finally, the right to pursue one’s Happiness. Do dogs, humans, and squid all have the ability to pursue their happiness? In what way is “Happiness” used in this document? Further excavation is necessary.

John Adams writes “Upon this point all speculative politicians will agree, that the happiness of society is the end of government, as all Divines and moral Philosophers will agree that the happiness of the individual is the end of man.” The Virginia Declaration of Rights states that when men enter into a social compact they cannot give up certain rights. The last few rights mentioned are Happiness, property, and safety. “Happiness”, contextually speaking, cannot simply be dismissed as feeling safe or the acquisition of property. Finally, we find “Happiness” mentioned in George Washington’s First Inaugural Address when he says “there is nothing more certain in the economy of the universe that there exists an indissoluble union between Virtue and Happiness.” Virtue is the highest goal a human can pursue. The highest good is the right use of reason and that entails the pursuit of the good life. The pursuit of morality, then, is the pursuit of the highest happiness. Of course, there is a material aspect to this pursuit. But the pursuit of happiness does not end with the purchasing of a house or collecting a pile of apples3Declartion and Constitution

To put it another way, the use of reason establishes a hierarchy of Happiness and shows that material happiness necessarily fades. The pursuit of Happiness is the pursuit of the most permanent and highest of “happinesses”. In short, the pursuit of Happiness is pursuit of the Summum Bonum, the Highest Good. As such, it must be a lifelong pursuit that quite possibly never is achieved. As a pursuit, it is not a guarantee of happiness, but an allowance for the ability to chase after goals established by your interest in perfecting Virtue. It is the chasing after of the ultimate perfection of the human project. Since the use of the word “pursuit” admits, at the very least, a difficulty in the attainment of the goal then perhaps the pursuit of the Good may be the next best thing to the actual attainment of the Good. In an Aristotelian4 sense, “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness”5 defines the proper human life.

Finally, squids and dogs fall off of our list.

So, as we understand the definition of Happiness we come to understand the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and, by extension, the American Political Project begun by the Founders.

Man is the only animal created to use his life in pursuit of a moral/virtuous end. Government’s job is to get out of the way and allow man to “find himself”, as it were. Government’s duty is not to establish the Happiness of mankind, but to let man establish this for himself as much as this is possible within civil society.

Tying all this back together, Natural Rights are a reflection of the self-evident truths we find in a Nature that was Created by Nature’s God and ruled over by the Supreme Judge of the World. The “rights” that the U.S. Constitution claims to protect are not all social agreements or local/regional wants. The fundamental ones are aspects or characteristics of human beings that, if absent, would reduce man to animal and give credence to the Machiavellian formulation of government.

The denial of a “Natural Right” is the denial of man as man. By extension, it is the denial of the right order of the universe. This is why slavery (or any other denial of Natural Right) is such a horrendous act6.

A more perfect union is possible when the Declaration is allowed to inform and make more complete the original intention of the U.S. Constitution7.


[1] For a full search into this topic visit The Founder’s Constitution at http://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders and search “Happiness and Virtue” or “Aristotle”.

[2] Compare this to the purpose of the 9th Amendment as well as the first paragraph of the 14th amendment which was loosely based on Bushrod Washington’s list of rights in Corfield v. Coryell.  Corfield v. Coryell was, in part, a brief attempt by Washington to make a list of some of the many Natural Rights “out there.”

[3] Read John Locke’s Second Treatise on Government, Chapter 5 Section 46: John Locke states that man can use his labor plus what he finds in nature to satisfy his needs and establish private property.  Private property ends, though, when he acquires too much material to be used effectively and puts others at a disadvantage.  However, in “the state of nature” there is no government to regulate this greed and, so, this pile of rotting apples is, effectively, ill used private property.  To see a different take, read Plato’s Republic and Socrates’ claim that only those who can effectively use property should be allowed to “own” it.  Socrates might say that the pile of rotting apples should have been distributed by someone to those who did not have apples.  The point here being, “Happiness” is not simply acquiring property as some assume simply because Jefferson borrows from Locke’s “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of property.”

[4] Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics Book I

[5] Compare this ordering of Rights with the Vietnamese Declaration of Independence to see how a reordering of fundamental rights can undermine the sanctity of the individual.

[6] For a further example, take a look at Jefferson’s use of the word “Men.”  He means the Declaration to apply to ALL HUMANS.  Look further in the document and you’ll see “governments are instituted among MEN”.  Unless you’re willing to claim that only white males lives under governments, contextually, at least,  you’ll need to admit that all human beings and “MEN” are the same thing.  Further, take a look at the paragraph where he complained about the keeping open “a market where MEN are bought and sold”.  Again, women and children were sold into slavery, not just males.  “Men” have rights, which is to say, all human beings are born with rights.  Bad government and bad laws take these rights away, not Nature or God.  There are no classes of men.

[7] Finally, the U.S. Constitution is dated from the signing of the Declaration of Independence.  The Constitution can be seen as a fleshing out of the Declaration in this respect.

*Charles Cooper (@Thrasymachus) works at Northwest High School in Justin, Texas.  He teaches college and regular ed. government and was awarded the 2012 Humanities Texas Teacher of the Year Award.


Filed under history education

Hey, History Teachers, Have You Seen the Constitution Reader from @Hillsdale?

This was featured back in the November 2012 issue of Education Matters. Education Matters is the monthly member newsletter of the Association of American Educators (Have we mentioned you should join the AAE?!?!?!). It is an amazing resource on the constitution.

From the AAE newsletter:

Teachers, are you interested in a great new resource for your social studies or history classes? The Constitution Reader is a free, interactive, searchable, and customizable website centered around The U.S. Constitution: A Reader. It contains the same material taught in the Hillsdale College’s core course on the Constitution. In addition to containing a fully digitized and searchable version of the Reader, The Constitution Reader also contains:

  • The topics that are most important to understanding American government
  • The key debates between the Founders, the Progressives, and others
  • A database of quotes drawn from the Reader
  • An illustrated timeline of American constitutional history

Visit http://constitutionreader.com/


Filed under history education

#CommonCore State Standards are federalizing your child’s future

by Karen Schroeder of Advocates for Academic Freedom.

The American educational system is being federalized through implementation of Race to the Top and Common Core State Standards. Once CCSS are completely implemented, the federal government will have control of assessment tools and textbooks used in core subjects. Also, a national data collection system called State Longitudinal Data Systems (SLDS) will be used to determine a child’s educational opportunities. The federalization of education will turn all school-choice programs into federally approved programs.

The International Baccalaureate is a set of standards which are shaped by several United Nations treaties.  International Baccalaureate Organization explains that IB and CCSS share the values and beliefs of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights with emphasis on Article 26.

This means that CCSS and IB programs are teaching beliefs and values contained in treaties that the United States does not support.  These values include the surrender of the American Constitution, of national sovereignty, and of individual rights so students will accept becoming members of the “world community”. The CCSS standards focus on changing the social and political values of American children. Few goals address academics; math standards actually lower expectations. What had been required from a fourth grade student is now required from a fifth grader.

The national data collection system (SLDS) will follow a child from Kindergarten to adulthood. A student’s IQ scores, test scores, and his disciplinary and medical records will become part of the collected data which will help determine educational and job opportunities afforded each student.

Once these systems are in place, all students in every educational setting will have to meet these state standards if they are going to pass the state-created assessment tools. Therefore, the education provided in every setting must include the curricula presented in state schools.

To accomplish these goals, the federal government has cooperated with companies to write textbooks that meet the goals of CCSS and IB. The federal government is funding organizations that will create testing tools to assess the student’s progress in accepting the social and political ideologies being taught in the classroom. Implementation of CCSS is expected to be completed within the next two to three years.

The only effective means of preventing international control of the American educational system is to eliminate the federal funding of education. Advocates for Academic Freedom is an educational consulting firm working with legislators across the United States to organize a conservative movement to eliminate federal control of education. Visit the Advocates for Academic Freedom home page, find the Petition for Progress button on the left side of the page, click on that button and sign the petition. To stop the federalization of education, we must have proof that there is sufficient support from the electorate. Please sign the petition and become a member of the grassroots movement to limit federal governmental control by removing federal funding of education and reallocating those funds to the states.



Filed under National Standards (Common Core)


by Karen Schroeder of Advocates for Academic Freedom

Leaders of educational policy have found that local control of schools hinders their ability to convince students that America’s success and well-being is interdependent with other nations. Before interdependence can gain acceptance, American citizens must abandon their present life style.

The Aspen Institute prepared a succinct document called A New Civic Literacy; American Education and Global Interdependence which shows that educational and political leaders believed that local control of education had been slowing public acceptance of interdependence. Never-the-less, Dr. Ward Morehouse, who developed educational programs for world citizenship for the New York State Department of Education, explained that interdependence may impose burdens that must be widely shared. “We the people are ready to make major adjustments in our life styles and work-ways if (a) someone with credibility tells us that it is in the public interest and (b) the distribution of the burden is obviously fair.”

Does this position sound familiar?

Dr. Morehouse assumes that interdependence is a goal of the American people and that its implementation simply needs the guidance of a leader with credibility. He warns that the American educational system is “caught in a bind” created by state and local control of schools. He joins a myriad of educational theorists who explain that only the federal government can handle the major issues involving energy, food, population, global environment, oceans, communications, trade, investment, and money.

Believing the federal government should control money and salaries, the American public allowed political leaders to create the Federal Reserve and pass the 16th and 17th Amendments to the Constitution. Simultaneously, educational and political leadership assumed that Americans had been well prepared to accept interdependence and all of the educational and political implications involved.

Therefore, increasing federal funding and creating policies which place the federal government in greater control of educational policy have been essential steps toward assuring the success of this agenda. Justification is based on the premise that interdependence issues are “perceived as national concerns”.

The American public has been conditioned to believe that perceptions must be respected as truth. This manipulation of language discourages discussion of interdependence, a relationship in which the individual owns and controls nothing because everything he accomplishes depends upon the generosity and talents of collective world nations. He must surrender private property and freedom. Our founding fathers would be appalled that our citizenry would surrender so much.

Those imposing social or political agendas upon the classroom are not held accountable for the impact their policies have on the academic success of students. One example is Cooperative grouping of children. That is a method of instruction which encourages children to surrender their individual dreams and academic goals for the collective. College professors continue to recommend cooperative grouping of students as an essential method of instruction although academic achievement suffers in the process. The First Days of School by Harry and Rosemary Wong and Handbook of Social Justice in Education by William Ayers and others are examples of works which advocate cooperative grouping as a technique for new teachers. Both books are also required reading during professional seminars.

Most important to these educational experts are the social and political changes being developed in American society. Many Americans have been conditioned to accept a President who says:

If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. If you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on

your own. I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart.

If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help.

When the American public cheers a President who advocates these collectivistic values, the policy wonks at the Aspen Institute have good reason to smile for they have successfully changed American values, standards, and expectations. This they accomplished without spilling a drop of blood or taking a life.

They destroyed the dreams of many Americans, and they used the educational system to do it. Taxpayers who want to stop the destruction of America’s Republic must demand that federal mandates be removed from the educational system and the funds be re-allocated to the states.

Please consider financially supporting Advocates for Academic Freedom! Your donations are used to contribute conservative current-events materials to school libraries and to provide informational materials to parents, educators, and taxpayers about social and political policies which impact the educational system. AAF works with grassroots groups to address educational issues at the federal, state, and local level. Donations can be made online via PayPal or checks can be made payable to: AAF and mailed to: 331 South Main Street; Suite 307, Rice Lake, WI 54868




Filed under Educational Articles

Are School Vouchers (and Charters) Really the Free Market at Work? Does the Free Market Include Government Funding/Regulations?

by Gretchen Logue of Missouri Education Watchdog

Andrew Coulson from CATO writes about the idea of “choice” and why many “choice” proponents who espouse “free market” are actually promoting unconstitutional ideas.  We at MEW have some rather spirited discussions the last several days with “choicers” about our recent articles on “choice” questioning whether this “choice” actually is free market or markets propped up by tax dollars.

Education is free market when the government doesn’t fund it and regulate its operation.  Coulson wonders how government funded vouchers can be considered free market by the choice movement.  How can does a government funded “choice” in education containing the same mandates as traditional public school be classified as free market?  Coulson explains why vouchers are not really choice at all in Obama, Romney, Teachers, and Choice:

Jay Greene has an excellent piece in the Wall Street Journal this week revealing that the teacher workforce has grown dramatically over the past forty years—and at enormous cost—without improving student achievement by the end of high school. And he rightly disparages President Obama for arguing that even more teachers would somehow do the trick. Even better, Greene notes that American education will not reverse its productivity collapse and become efficient until we allow it to benefit from the freedoms and incentives of the marketplace.

But then Jay cites Governor Romney’s goal of “voucherizing federal education funds so that parents can take those resources and use them to send their children to schools of their choice,” and he does so with apparent approbation. Even ignoring the fact that the Constitution does not empower Congress to run education programs, this is a very dangerous idea.

There has been no civilization in the history of humanity in which governments have paid for private schooling without ultimately controlling what was taught and who could teach, erecting barriers to entry and thereby crippling market forces.

For that reason, I recommended against a federal voucher program under the Bush administration. Since then, additional evidence has come to light. When I studied the regulatory impact of U.S. private school choice programs last year I found that even the small existing U.S. voucher programs do indeed impose a heavy and very statistically significant additional burden of regulation on participating private schools.

Perhaps a way will be found to enact and maintain minimally regulated voucher programs in the coming years. Until that time comes, it would be the height of folly to introduce a federal voucher program whose regulations would suffocate educational freedom from coast to coast.

In my statistical study of choice program regulation, I found that K-12 tax credit programs do not impose a statistically significant extra burden of regulation on private schools. But even a national K-12 tax credit program would be far too dangerous. By leaving education policy to the states and the people, we can see which programs flourish and which become sclerotic. We must encourage and learn from that policy diversity, not squelch it with federal programs or mandates.

Coulson has the correct idea about educational delivery and the only solution that is constitutional:  leave education to the states and the people.    Don’t try to sell the federally funded voucher idea as a viable alternative to traditional public schools when the private schools will have to conform to the same mandates and regulations of the traditional public schools.

He doesn’t mention charter schools in this CATO article, but I wonder if he would make the same argument when scrutinizing the free market argument made in favor of charter schools.  In this 2001 article from thefreemanonline.com critiquing a book on charters, he raises concerns about taxpayer funding of charters and understanding that once the government funds these schools, they lose their autonomy:

The risks and shortcomings of charter schools are several. For one thing, whenever the state rather than the consumer pays for a service, we have the breeding grounds for fraud and corruption. Parents cannot be duped into paying for children they do not have, but the same can’t be said of government agencies. The authors describe several fraudulent abuses, but fail to acknowledge that the problem is intrinsic to the separation of payment from consumption.

Allowing the government to hold the educational purse strings also draws the attention of charter schools away from families and toward the state. In a market, producers increase their income either by cutting costs or demonstrating improved services for which consumers are willing to pay more. Charter schools will only be able to raise revenues by lobbying the state. The 14-fold increase in inflation-adjusted per-pupil spending that has occurred in government schools over the past 75 years is a sobering harbinger of what to expect under charter schooling. The authors provide evidence of this lobbying already occurring among the country’s nascent charter schools, but seem not to understand its importance or inevitability.

Finally, charter schools preclude the direct financial responsibility of parents that history shows to be crucial for the maintenance of parental involvement in, and control over, their children’s education.

Based on historical and contemporary precedents, charter schools are likely to be re-regulated to the point where they are indistinguishable from traditional government-run schools. The authors are aware of this “ominous threat,” but can offer no solution.

The downside of charter schooling would be of negligible importance if their impact were limited to charter schools themselves. Charter schools would still constitute some improvement over traditional public schools. The real concern is that previously independent private schools are being lured into the charter fold. If large numbers of private schools adopt charter status, the eventual re-regulation of charter schools will expand the government education monopoly. The authors make no mention of this Damoclean sword hanging over the charter movement.

Don’t try to pass charters off as free market when they are taxpayer funded.  Don’t privatize education via charters where taxpayers and parents have no decision making abilities and mandates (not laws) dictate how and what standards/assessments will be taught to students and pre-determined vendors cash in on supplying the curricula and systems needed because of the mandates.

If your state legislators espouse “choice” as conservative and free market ideas, send them a copy of Coulson’s article.  These “choices” as they are currently constructed are neither. 

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Filed under Vouchers and School Choice

@CatoInstitute: Gov. Romney, Federal ‘Incentives’ Mean Federal Power

Governor Romney’s education plan emerged on Wednesday, May 23rd. Governor Romney has a real opportunity to provide bold leadership on the topic of education reform, but the reality is he is going to stick to the same status quo approach of the past 40 years. Real reform involves trusting the states to make their own choices with regards to education, but the elitists in the Republican party would not dare attempt that approach. Real reform involves abolishing the Federal Department of Education, but that was once heard from that crazy, right-wing-zealot Ronald Reagan. Below is an excellent piece from Neal McCluskey over at Cato.org that we thought very worthy of cross-posting. It sums up the disappointment in the Romney education plan quite nicely.

In a speech today, presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney will lay out the foundations of his education platform. Based on an outline of his proposals released byEducation Week this morning, Gov. Romney seems just a little less disinterested in the Constitution — and the 40-plus years of proven federal education failure – than the man he seeks to replace. And no, calling what you want federal “incentives” neither absolves them of being unacceptable federal intrusions, nor makes them any less coercive.

The heart of what Mr. Romney wants in elementary and secondary education is federal enticements to get states to implement everything from “open-enrollment” policies for schools, to individual school “report cards,” to encouraging “talented individuals to become teachers.”

As I wrote last week, while “incentive” sounds kinda harmless, an incentive program is really all that No Child Left Behind is. No state has to do anything in NCLB. It only has to follow the law if it wants the federal money attached to it. The funding is only an incentive, but it is so big an incentive it is irresistible, even with the law being a huge millstone around the neck of American education. And, of course, taxpayers had no choice about furnishing the ducats to begin with. (Well, I suppose they were incentivized by a trip to prison…)

Where Romney’s K-12 offering is most enticing is his proposal that federal money be attached to low-income and special-needs children and made portable even to private schools. (Portable, that is, “in accordance with state guidelines,” a proviso the outline doesn’t flesh out.) But the very real threat, as with all federal funding , is federal control. What Washington funds it will regulate — though usually for political show, not efficiency or effectiveness — and that is something we should strenuously avoid for  private schools when states can implement more varied — and less regulation prone — choice mechanisms such as education tax credits. And, of course, the Constitution gives the federal government no more authority to deliver school choice than to dictate curricula. That is, except in Washington itself, and to his credit Mr. Romney is proposing to save the D.C. voucher program that Mr. Obama, for whatever shoddy reason, seems determined to suffocate.

The good news about Gov. Romney’s outline is that it directly addresses the primary problem in higher education, and one of its primary causes: insane tuition inflation fueled by massive federal student aid. Indeed, though he will no doubt get flayed for it by the higher ed establishment, who will publically deny it like so many naked emperors, Mr. Romney’s outline is refreshingly straightforward in identifying the root problem:

Governor Romney realizes that more spending will not solve the problem of tuition increases – to the contrary, it has helped fuel the problem. When Washington puts more money into student aid programs to help families and individuals pay for higher education, colleges and universities raise tuition rates.

So what grade does Mr. Romney get on education, at least from this initial outline? About a 30 percent for K-12, and a 90 percent for higher ed. That works out to 60 percent — a woeful D-minus – but that’s probably a tad bit better than most presidents would have gotten since the 1960s.

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Filed under Education Reform, Federal Department of Education

We The People 9-17 Essay Contest

David Barton mentioned this and us in a tweet yesterday. (If you don’t know who David Barton is, you need to learn!) Constituting America is a group that was founded by Janine Turner (former TV actress). They have an essay contest for every level of school. We just thought you might want to check it out.

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Filed under Essay Contest, Famous People Affecting Education, history education