For our history studies, we use “living books” — i.e. not textbooks — and are basically just reading through American history. Now granted these books, especially those we use for the boys, are not 300-page, in-depth studies of all the twists, turns, events, and people who make our history. They’re 40-60 page summations that hit the high points, leaving out some of the details that might not be appropriate for young kids: Andrew Jackson’s interesting marital situation, for example. They are, for the most part, sufficient and adequate hooks on which to hang our history studies.
But, but, but– (sorry, we’ve been listening to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang)
There are some basic things that you need to get right, even if it takes a little explanation. To gloss over or tweak some things gets wrong the American system of government. The two big ones that are repeated over and over and over are:
1. America is a democracy.
2. Government grants people rights.
No, no, no. A thousand times no!
The first ubiquitous error is the notion that America is a democracy. No, America is a representative democracy — a republic. It seems like a tiny difference, but it’s the difference between a nation of laws and a nation of men. The difference between hoisting a wet finger to see which way the wind blows before making laws and making laws based on deliberation and the foundational constitutional principles our government is based upon. Now, certainly the argument may be made that we have been drifting away from that principle, but we are still — until our legislatures are abolished — a representative democracy. We’re a republic.
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The second error is worse, more dangerous, and makes me want to slap more people. “The government grants citizens the right to __________.” Free speech? Press? Religion? The right to own property? The right to due process? Those are all gifts from the government. WRONG! The government secures the rights that we inherently have.
Exhibit one: the Declaration of Independence where a government who decided not to “grant rights” to the colonists got told what for:
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.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
Exhibit two: The preamble to the Constitution:
We the people of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
The government doesn’t give us anything; it secures those rights that we have been given as human beings. If it is true that the government grants us rights, the government can, therefore, take away our rights for any reason it sees fit. Yes, it is true that we forfeit our life, liberty, and property if we violate the life, liberty, and property of others. That’s part of the social contract. One purpose of forming a government is to “establish Justice.”
My kids are probably going to get this speech many, many times over the years as we read this in almost every children’s history book we use. I know my children are going to know through and through that we are a republic whose government was formed to secure our God-given rights. But I worry about a nation where the citizens are taught from childhood that we are a democracy whose citizens are bestowed gifts from their government. It doesn’t bode well for the future.
Educate yourself and your children. The Republic depends on it.