Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Turning US Government on its Ear

I have been wrestling with a major question the last months as I've prepared for this coming year. I teach US Government to seniors (both a regular semester-long course to seniors and a year-long AP course to seniors (this one is new this year)). Of course I have curriculum planning concerns and all the usual stuff. But this year, I feel confronted with something new.

The major question I have been struggling with is a philosophical question about the nature of the US Government course in general (whether regular or advanced)...and this is it:

Do I teach US Government as a history course now?

It's not hyperbole. Hear me out.

Up until this school year, the government/civics course I teach has relied on one specific text: the Constitution. Our school has a text book, but I never crack it open. I use other sources of reading for articles, and base the bulk of the course on an exploration of the Constitution itself - sandwiched between an introductory unit on how the Constitution got there in the first place and concluding units on voting/elections and citizenship.

But this administration has so violated the Constitution that the operation of the three branches of our government no longer looks like anything the Framers of the Constitution wrote down. Nor are the Bill of Rights intact any longer. With the last six years ushering in the "unitary executive" - with George W. Bush signing more than twice the number of signing statements to every piece of legislation than have ever been signed by all preceding presidents total; the complete domination of the Supreme Court by justices who actually BELIEVE in the unitary executive theory, and a republican Congress for the first 6 years that was a rubber stamp to the executive branch, and a recent Democratic Congress that seems to be completely unconcerned with that part of their oath about "protecting and defending the Constitution" - and these are only a few things - the current US Government is no longer an example of what the Constitution says.

And let's not forget those pesky civil liberties - the most basic being the rescinding of habeas corpus. But alas, no more rights to privacy, no freedom of speech ("free speech zones", anyone?), and let us not speak of all the trial rights that have been removed. With corporations having more personhood rights than persons, and with the common good being a notable asterisk in the history book of governmental priority, there seems to be no end to the violation of the rule of law our country was founded on.

Do we even need to mention that the entire executive branch colluded to lie to the American people in order to invade a sovereign nation and then proceed to completely destroy all vestiges of foreign policy and international relations built up over centuries, while killing hundreds of thousands of people in Iraq and dooming our own military to destruction and thousands of our soldiers to death and permanent, lifelong debilitating injury (both physical and mental)? No, I didn't think I needed to mention that...

The amount of power in the hands of the executive branch is something that has never been seen in our history. And if Congress doesn't take action to correct the balance of powers and protect the Constitution and the rights it demands the government protect for the people, then the next president, whether Republican or Democrat, will enter office with the most power any US President has ever had. And do you think any of them (no matter how noble they seem) will give that up once it's in their hands?

So I am in a quandary. Do I teach government class as a history class ("Students, this is how our government USED to work!"). Or do I start right off with the grim realities, building from a platform of the Constitutionally-mandated act of impeachment (not removal from office, but rather a hearing of accountability), which so far this Congress refuses to consider? I am not a preacher in my classroom, but when it comes to this subject, the facts speak for themselves, and it is getting harder and harder to encourage a generation of high school graduates to become citizens eager to participate in democracy.

And why would they be interested in participating in that democracy... when even their government teacher has a hard time discerning where that democracy has gone?


ms. whatsit said...

Absolutely! Haven't the three branches of the government historically wrestled with one another regarding the extent of their powers? We just happen to live in a time when the executive branch has been permitted to get away with more than it should. Kids ought to know that.

Mz.H said...

The more power the executive branch has, the less democracy there will be. That's my main worry. I will just try to communicate to my students the belief I hold down to my soul that democracy and constitutionalism is the very best form of human government so far invented.

ms. whatsit said...

With the way the Republican party has marketed itself -- you know, under the pretext that if you don't support the President and the war, then you're un-American -- and depending on how conservative your commuity is, convincing some parents that you uphold democratic ideals might be a problem. But that's a worst case scenerio. Your students will probably really appreciate your insights and concerns about the status quo.

Olive said...

Keep up the good work.

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