Students need more uniform teaching of Constitution, historians say
Instructors need to teach the U.S. Constitution to all students in a stimulating way to create well-educated citizens who are aware of their responsibilities, according to seven panelists in a discussion Tuesday.
Astrud Reed, The Oklahoma Daily
Students, faculty and visitors crowded into Catlett Music Center to hear noted historians share perspectives on teaching America’s founding in a panel titled, “The Teaching of Constitutional History in the 21st-century University.”
National Public Radio host Diane Rehm moderated the panel, which was part of OU’s inaugural “Teach-In: A Day with Some of the Greatest Teachers in America.”
The U.S. needs leaders and teachers who can make the Constitution relevant to students of all ages and backgrounds, Pulitzer-prize winning historian David McCullough said.
“There is nothing wrong with the younger generation,” he said. “The younger generation is terrific, and any problems they have, any failings they have, and what they know and don’t know is not their fault — it’s our fault.”
Teachers are the most important people in the society, and they should not be blamed for these failings either, McCullough said.
“I think that history, the love of history and the understanding of history begins truly, literally at home,” McCullough said.
In today’s education system students are not trained enough to ask questions, and this is a serious issue, he said.
Some students get all the way to college and have very little knowledge about the Constitution, said Kyle Harper, director of the OU Institute for American Constitutional Heritage.
“One of the exciting things about teaching in college is that you are teaching adults, and you are teaching kids who are becoming adults,” Harper said.
Harper aims to create situations for debate in classrooms to make college students realize that the facts on a page influence their political lives, he said.
In most graduate schools Constitutional history is always there, but undergraduate schools simply neglect it, Pulitzer-Prize winning historian Gordon Wood said. Even in graduate training, issues of race and women have preoccupied graduate training and the writing of history.
Only 8 percent of colleges and universities, public and private, in the U.S. require a single course in American history or government to receive a diploma, OU President David Boren said in an introduction.
One way to increase interest in history and constitutional teaching is to show students that the founding period was not that different from today, said Rosemarie Zagarri, professor of history at George Mason University.
“It is just the sense of ownership and connection we feel with the political process that makes it different,” Zagarri said.
It all comes down to leadership, McCullough said. Americans lead by example, and our politicians have to do the same thing. Our country needs leaders who can take this cause of a more educated populace to heart and do something about it.