Patriot Games

Wake up, Maggie, I think I got somethin’ to say to youIt’s late September and I really should be back at school.

~Rod Steward/”Maggie May”

Following the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol by election deniers, there has been a push for civics to be taught at every education level from kindergarten to college.  Ironically, the movement has been led by some of the same people who supported efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election.  As reported by the New York Times last November, the governors of Florida, South Dakota and Virginia are at the forefront of this movement.  Implementation of their stated goal is even more problematic.  Though supporters of the new standards claim they hope to make instruction less ideological, the Times reports the curriculum reflects conservative positions and values.

Though I often write about things I know little about, I do believe my three degrees in American Government (B.A. from UVA) and Political Science (M.A. and Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins) afford me the right to weigh in on this topic.  The curriculum at both universities focused on process.  What authority does the Constitution give each branch of government?  Which decisions are reserved for the federal government and which for the states?  How have Supreme Court decisions from Marbury v. Madison to Nixon (1803) v. United States (1974) added flesh to the framework adopted in 1789?  And finally, in times of crisis, how has that framework ensured preservation of the founders’ vision and ideals for America and when has it failed?

Implementation of Florida’s newly adopted curriculum appears to be going in a different direction.  The state Department of Education turned to two conservative entities to develop the workshop in which Florida teachers are trained to deliver the revised standards.  Hillsdale College, a private conservative liberal arts college in Michigan whose general counsel Ian Norton helped plan the fake electors scheme in his home state.  And the Bill of Rights Institute founder by major Republican donor Charles Koch.  One example of the their impact on the curriculum is promoting an “originalist” view of the U.S. constitution with no mention of the opposing philosophy of a “living constitution” which argues the document must evolve in response to societal change.

Whenever Governor Ron DeSantis talks about the need for civics education he uses the word “patriots” instead of “citizens.”  Interesting, because the Constitution defines who is and who is not a citizen under the 14th Amendment, Section 1.1.2 referred to as the “Citizenship Clause Doctrine.”  The words “patriot” and “patriotism” do not appear anywhere in the original document or any of the amendments.  Why?  Because patriotism is subjective, as we learned on January 6, 2021.  For some the patriots that day where law enforcement officers who ensured Congress could carry out its responsibility to count the electoral vote.  For others, the “patriots” were those who breached the Capitol walls in an attempt to overturn a free and fair election.

But let me end on a positive note.  In the previous blog “The Lady Doth Protest Too Much,” I described my own experience attending segregated schools in Richmond, Virginia.  At the time, Black students could only attend Maggie L. Walker High School, named for the first African-American woman to found and serve as president of a United States chartered bank.  Founded in 1937, the school closed in 1990.  The renovated building reopened in 2001 as the Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School for Government and International Studies devoted to a mission that:

…will develop life-long learners who embrace the responsibility of citizenship, the value of ethical leadership, and the richness of diverse cultures.

A picture of the current student population suggests American education can promote both solid citizenship and diversity.

In August 2014, Maggie Walker Governor’s School was ranked by Newsweek as the 12th best public high school in the U.S.  In 2023, their position rose to #8.  In 2022, Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin supported legislation that would prohibit admissions policies used to promote diversity at Maggie Walker and other Governor’s Schools across the state.

For what it’s worth.