On Sept. 4, President Donald Trump ordered all federal agencies to halt critical race training on white privilege and anti-racism, calling them “divisive, anti-American propaganda.”
If agencies cannot teach using critical race theory, then I have a nonpartisan solution. Teach the U.S, Constitution.
Constitution Day is Thursday, which begs the question: How much of the document do we actually know? One in three Americans cannot list any of the rights upheld by the First Amendment, according to a 2019 survey by the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. One in five cannot identify the three branches of federal government.
How many of us can identify amendments beyond that one which allows us freedom of religion, speech, petition, press, and assembly? And beyond that other one which guarantees the right to bear arms?
Perhaps future training can provide context for why federal employees have very good reason to:
- Protect citizens from unreasonable search and seizure (Fourth Amendment).
- Provide that citizens are not subject to criminal prosecution and punishment without due process (Fifth Amendment).
- Assure the right to a speedy trial by a jury of one’s peers (Sixth Amendment).
- Prohibit excessive bail, excessive, fines, and cruel and unusual punishments (Eighth Amendment).
Following the Bill of Rights, Americans apparently had good reason to add more items to the list, including:
- Abolish slavery and involuntary servitude (Thirteenth Amendment).
- Prohibit the denial of the right to vote based on race, color, or previous condition of servitude (Fifteenth Amendment).
- Prohibit the denial of the right to vote based on sex (Nineteenth Amendment).
If the president wants to limit government approaches to discrimination, then the answer is simple. Future training sessions ought to describe the context behind the Constitution. This document is dynamic. Its meanings change with emerging contexts, cultures, and legislation.
Training might inspire government officials to ask questions about present-day scenarios. For example, how might people’s constitutional rights be infringed through race and gender discrimination, obstacles preventing minority communities to vote, or mass incarceration and murder of American citizens of color? Which amendment might each issue fall under?
We cannot teach the Constitution’s story without addressing issues of systemic racism and sexism rearing their ugly heads.If the document fully expressed American exceptionalism, then it would not have been amended 17 times following the first 10 amendments.
The Constitution is a living archive, designed to prevent history from repeating itself. Removing critical race theory from government curriculum does not make the problems go away.
Thomas Larsen is a a geography instructor at The University of Northern Iowa.