Friday, June 27, 2014

Common Core Controversy: Is U.S. Constitution a ‘Living Document’?

A classroom resource provided by a group founded by three lead writers of the Common Core State Standards teaches 8th graders as fact that the U.S. Constitution is a "living document" and that the nation's founders only considered white males with property as persons under the law.

But leading constitutional scholars challenge both assertions.

Student Achievement Partners’ sample lesson for Linda R. Monk’s Words We Live By: Your Annotated Guide to the Constitution is listed as a suggested reading for 8th graders in the official Common Core Standards.

It instructs teachers to have students “investigate an area of debate where the interpretation of an Amendment or amending the Constitution is central to the argument and then debate it in class” in order to “reinforce the concept that the U.S. Constitution is a living document.”

Although this recommended lesson plan assumes as an objective fact that the Constitution is a “living document”, many legal scholars - including Antonin Scalia, the Supreme Court’s longest-serving justice - think otherwise. They argue that the Constitution should be interpreted as it was originally written, according to the founders’ intentions.

At a constitutional symposium hosted by the State Bar of Georgia in March, Scalia defended this originalist interpretation in a speech titled “Interpreting the Constitution: A View from the High Court.”

“The Constitution is not a living organism,” he stated. “It’s a legal document, and it says what it says and doesn’t say what it doesn’t say.”

Roger Pilon, director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Constitutional Studies, told that it is erroneous for schools to solely categorize the Constitution as a “living document.”

“The notion of a ‘living document’ is freighted with political controversy. It’s an idea that is invoked by those, usually on the Left, who see the Constitution essentially as an empty vessel to be filled by transient majorities,” Pilon said.

Pilon did state that there are some instances in which the Constitution could be rightly considered a living document, pointing out that the meaning of “cruel and unusual punishment” has changed over time.

“But in far more cases the terms are fairly fixed, even if the judicial interpretations and applications of them may be either correct or mistaken,” Pilon said. “‘Separate but equal’ was always wrong, for example, even if the Court said otherwise in 1896, a decision it corrected in 1954. That correction didn’t make the Constitution a ‘living document.’ It was simply the righting of an erroneous interpretation.”

Brittany Corona, a researcher in domestic policy studies at the Heritage Foundation, told that “there are legal constitutional precedents that will arise to clarify constitutional principles. That’s a very different thing than to say the nature of the document itself is evolving.”

“For American students to be surrounded by rights language and introduced to this concept of a living, evolving document is very dangerous because there’s not a sense of permanency, as far as the foundations upon which our government was created,” she said.

“This is an open door to start pushing back on other things that should be understood with some permanency, such as your right to protect your own life, per the Second Amendment of the Constitution.”

“This is a scary thing,” Corona added. “When you’re looking at the context of the content matter of the Common Core national standards… you’re looking at a complete distortion of civic education as we know it in America.”

“If you don’t have an enlightened citizenry, those who will jealously defend these natural rights that are alike to all men equally, and the Founders understood this, then you’re not going to have a self-governing republic. And the fact that American students per Common Core are going to have a convoluted understanding of the very foundations that make self-government possible, that’s terrifying for the future of America.”

The proposed lesson plan also states that “teachers should look for a logical explanation of the evolution of who has been considered a ‘person’ in the eyes of America over time….noting that at the nation’s founding the creators of the constitution would not ‘have in mind the majority of America’s citizens’ and primarily saw persons as white males with property.”

Pilon told that it is incorrect to teach students that those who could not vote under the original Constitution were not legally considered persons.

“Women were considered persons even though they didn’t have the right to vote,” he said. “One of the privileges of citizenship is the right to vote, but then you have to define it. Seventeen-year-olds don’t have the right to vote, for example. They’re still persons.”

According to its website, Student Achievement Partners is not officially affiliated with the Common Core, though many states provide links to its resources on their Department of Education websites.

One such state, Tennessee, provides a disclaimer on its website saying that the presence of a link is for informational purposes only and does not constitute an endorsement.

When asked Ashley Ball, the deputy director of communications for the Tennessee Dept. of Education, if the department’s placement of a link to Student Achievement Partners on its official website signaled to teachers that it had checked and approved these materials for use in Tennessee schools, she declined to comment.


Questions from a Concerned Parent

Mike Adams

A parent wrote to me last week asking for my honest assessment of my university. His reason for writing is that his son is enrolling at UNC-Wilmington in the fall. He directly asked whether I would send my own son to the university where I teach. He also asked some other pointed questions. I thought my answers would make an informative column for parents who are about to send their Christian children to secular universities like UNCW. So here goes. His unedited questions and my responses follow:

1. On a scale of 1 to 100 (1 = Hillsdale College and 100 = UNC Chapel Hill), how liberal would you say UNCW is? Why?

I would say 90. I know of several genuinely conservative professors here at UNCW. That is probably several more than at Chapel Hill. Regardless, most UNCW social science and humanities departments lack even one single conservative voice. So I would give UNCW an “F” on intellectual diversity as opposed to the “F-minus” I would give to UNC-Chapel Hill.

2. How supportive/antagonistic are the faculty at UNCW toward Christianity/Christians?

The support is almost entirely lacking and the antagonism is pervasive. There is, however, variation from one department to the next. Christian students just need to be careful in their selection of general studies requirements as well as general electives. Be very careful when taking courses in philosophy. Try to avoid English, Sociology, and Education altogether. If your son has any questions, send him to my office. I'll make sure he avoids the more outspoken anti-Christian professors.

3. How receptive/antagonistic are the students at UNCW of Christianity/Christians, i.e. are they open to discussing and considering it when engaged by a fellow student?

There is a small but growing Gaystapo on our campus. There are also some very militant feminist students. Two ways to avoid trouble are 1) to live off campus with like-minded roommates (the Resident Assistants, who are themselves students, sometimes facilitate censorship of religious opinions) and 2) avoid taking classes ending with the word "studies." These two measures alone will help avoid many of the more militant students.

4. If you had a son, would you encourage him to attend UNCW (of course, assuming it met his major, personal, etc . . . requirements)?

I would not. Given the current leadership in the Dean of Students Office, I would probably avoid the university altogether. If the university manages to replace the Dean of Students (and most of the administrators in the Division of Student Affairs) in the near future I will reassess my position. Under the current regime, however, I would not send my son to UNCW to join a fraternity (or any other student group) and risk being subjecting to the sort of arbitrary decision-making that characterizes the current campus judicial process. I am not exaggerating when I say that it is among the most arbitrary, capricious, and unjust systems in the entire nation. We have already gone to the North Carolina legislature twice to remedy abuses of student rights that originated here at UNCW. Thankfully, the Republican majority has put an end to civil rights abuses previously neglected when the Democrats were in control in Raleigh.

5. Which Christian group(s) on campus would you encourage your son to join and why?

Cru. These guys have become hopelessly politically correct. I would join Cru and pressure them to start doing something meaningful on campus. For the most part, they chalk sidewalks and have pizza parties. I would suggest going to Cru meetings and passing out pictures of aborted babies an asking them when they are going to join a real crusade against a real injustice. Crusading for pizza gets old, especially while so many babies are being conceived and aborted within the so-called Christian student community.

6. Which secular group(s) on campus would you encourage your son to join and why?

Join the atheist club and ask really difficult questions.

7. What careers do Criminology students from UNCW normally pursue? How is the job market for these types of jobs?

They often pursue careers in local, state, and federal law enforcement. There are also opportunities to work as probation officers, which is not a bad job if you land a federal position. The market is decent and relatively stable in this general area of employment. Hence, I think Criminology is a much better major than Sociology, although the two are closely related.

8. On a scale of 1 to 100 (1 = Free Market/Capitalism and 100 = Socialistic/Communistic), how would you describe the Cameron School of Business’ “world/business view”? Why?

The Cameron School of Business is very free market oriented. In fact, it is the best school on campus. For example, our Economics and Finance Department is loaded with conservatives of a very high caliber. If I had a son who insisted on going to UNCW, I would only consent if he agreed to major in Economics, Finance, Accounting, Management or some other major in the Cameron School.

9. Do you have any students you mentor at UNCW (outside of your professional Criminology role)? If yes, (if you are comfortable sharing this) what does this look like on a weekly basis?

A couple. Some are dissatisfied with their current advisors and come to me for additional life advice. We meet occasionally but not on any formal time schedule.

10. What are some good churches in the area that you would recommend as a local church for students?

I attend Port City Community Church. Their college ministry, which is called Overflow, is excellent. I wish the sermons in the regular service would focus more on Scripture and less on pop psychology and self-improvement. But, then again, no church is perfect. In fact, if I found a perfect church and joined it then it wouldn't be perfect anymore.

In closing, I just want to reassure you that a Christian student can survive - even in a school as messed up as UNCW - as long as he does at least two things to make the road easier. First, he has to avoid taking classes within the overtly anti-Christian majors like Sociology and English. Second, he has to keep attending church. Most importantly, make sure he takes a trip to a well-grounded Christian worldview camp after his freshman year (see After all, ideas do have consequences. And refining one's worldview is a lifelong adventure.


Nasty British school bureaucracy again

Terminally ill mother is forced to do two school runs after council refused to let her send her two sons to the same school - because they live 100ft out of the catchment area

A mother who is dying from cancer begged her council to let both her sons attend the same primary school - but had her request denied because she lives 100ft outside of the catchment area.

Michelle Amey, who was diagnosed with skin cancer in 2008 which has since spread all over her body, fears her family will struggle to cope with the strain of doing two school runs every day.

Her eldest son, nine-year-old Charlie, already attends Mudeford Junior School in Christchurch, Dorset.

Her younger son George, six, currently attends the attached infants' school, but despite appeals to Dorset County Council he will not be allowed to move.

Instead he will be forced to attend Somerford Primary School, which is even further away from the family's home in the town.

Mrs Amey and her husband Stuart, who are both 37, faced a gruelling appeals process from the council, who asked invasive questions about her cancer treatment and made Mr Amey feel as if he were 'on trial' for questioning their decision.

Mrs Amey fears the boys' 'extremely close' relationship will be but under strain if the two are separated.

She said: 'George and Charlie support each other, they’re there for each other a lot.

'They’re aware of my illness and symptoms and are very sensitive at the moment. I can’t face putting George in another school. He would be devastated.'

Mrs Amey claims the council’s ‘rules are rules’ attitude forced her to struggle on buses and on foot to do two separate school runs as her health deteriorated.

She fell ill shortly after George was born in 2008 and doctors confirmed a mole on her leg was malignant melanoma.

The deadly skin cancer spread to her groin and she required surgery and radiotherapy to bring the disease under control.

But the cancer has now spread to her brain, kidneys, lungs, liver and lymph nodes and since falling ill she has had four brain tumours removed, which means she cannot drive.

An appeal hearing with an independent panel dashed Mrs Amey’s hopes of her ‘extremely close’ boys being able to attend the same junior school.

She said: 'They made Stuart feel like he was under investigation, they were asking a lot about my health.

'When Stuart told them I’d received treatment for brain tumours, they would ask: "well what treatment exactly are you talking about?".

'They were extremely intrusive. He felt a bit like he was on trial - their attitude was really awful and it was basically rules are rules. It was like talking to a brick wall.’

Mr and Mrs Amey plan to write to Education Secretary Michael Gove, whom they will ask to intervene and allow their sons to attend school together.

Mrs Amey said: 'We’re hoping we can get the decision overturned. George is constantly asking whether we’ve got him a place at the junior school.

'His friends have had trial days and he’s missed out and with this on top of my illness, he’s very tearful.

'It’s just very, very difficult. I am fighting for my life but I am determined to fight for the boys to be together.

'Sometimes I can’t walk, I have severe joint pain and nausea - the symptoms are similar to chemotherapy.

'I don’t know when they are going to strike so the boys are like my little carers. They’ve had to grow up a bit quickly which is quite sad.'

Mr Amey used to work in investment banking, but gave his job up after his wife’s diagnosis.

He now works for The Honeypot Children’s Charity, allowing him more flexible hours to help take care of his wife and children.

Mrs Amey said: ‘Stuart is brilliant. He carries all the weight on his shoulders and tries to be strong all the time but it does get to him.

'The whole thing is so unnecessary, it’s just extra stress and pressure.'

A spokesman for Dorset County Council said: 'While we are unable to comment on individual cases, we can confirm that there was a recent appeals committee which reviewed several cases.

'The county council presented its case that Mudeford Junior School cannot take more than 33 children in each of its Year 3 classes entering in September 2014.

'Each family at the appeal presented their case for exceptional circumstances.

'The panel reviewed and made the decision that this particular case has been dealt with by Dorset County Council appropriately.

'We have been very sympathetic to this case. Those involved have gone beyond what is required to assist and support the family and we will continue to work with them.'


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