Each semester, I am reminded of the constitutional illiteracy of American college students. I cannot help but be reminded because I teach courses in criminal procedure and evidence, which often focus on various constitutional limitations on police conduct. Naturally, I have to test the students to see how well they understand the cases and the rules I teach and assign for outside reading. Sometimes their answers floor me. Here are just a few examples over the course of the present school year:
- A student referred to the necessity of reading Miranda warnings in order to preserve the Fourth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination.
- Another student reminded me that the Fourteenth Amendment does not require states to incorporate the Sixth Amendment right to a grand jury proceeding.
- A student casually mentioned the Second Amendment right to free speech. (Talk about shooting yourself in the foot during an exam!)
- A student referred to the Seventh Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishments. And finally (as if that wasn’t enough),
- A student answered a search and seizure question by referring to the Third Amendment warrant requirement.
Hardly a week goes by that I do not jokingly tell a student to go find a homeschooler and ask him if he has an extra pocket copy of the constitution he would like to loan out. Like most jokes, my quip has an element of truth. In fact, this one has a firm basis in reality.
Indeed, it has been obvious for quite some time that the constitutional illiteracy of our students can be traced to the constitutional illiteracy of our public school teachers. And after years of neglect it has now become firmly entrenched among university professors. If you think that is an exaggeration, please consider the following:
- Last year, while observing a lecture, I heard a university professor tell students, “Because it is a living document, our constitution has survived for thousands of years.” The professor who made that statement has a PhD in criminology from a public university. If you think that was an isolated incident, consider another example,
- When a professor asked me which course I most enjoy teaching and why, I replied, “Criminal procedure because of the heavy emphasis on Fourth Amendment law.” The professor responded by asking, “Which one is the Fourth Amendment?” The professor, who teaches courses in criminology, has a PhD in sociology from a public university. If you think that was an isolated incident, consider another example,
- A professor offended by one of my columns on The Daily Wire decided to respond (or perhaps just vent) with a letter to the editor of the local newspaper. The professor conceded in his letter that the First Amendment protected my columns. But then he observed that the columns were also in violation of my university’s “Seahawk Respect Compact,” which is a policy that bans disrespectful speech. Thus, he specifically called for formal sanctions to be imposed on me by the university.
Let that sink in for a moment. The professor is a tenured sociologist who actually believes that the First Amendment is trumped by university policies. In other words, he asserts that when the constitution says one thing and the university handbook says another, the handbook wins. Apparently, he considers the university handbook the supreme law of the land. The professor, as you might have expected, earned his PhD in sociology at a public university.
To state the obvious, the task of curing constitutional illiteracy among college students is pretty difficult when it is also rampant among university faculty. Unfortunately, the problem is made even worse by the outright hostility some faculty members have for the constitution. That hostility became evident a few years ago when my university began hosting events for “constitution day” during each fall semester.
When we decided to host a constitution day for the first time I was excited. The organizers had decided to invite a faculty member to speak at the event. Although I had just won a major First Amendment lawsuit against the university, I did not expect the faculty organizers to pick me to speak. After all, there are at least 500 people teaching at my university. And several of us teach classes that focus on constitutional issues. Any one of us would have been perfectly acceptable.
But there is one professor who would not have been acceptable as a choice to speak on constitution day. A tenured Marxist feminist was the only member of our faculty to ever lose a constitutional case in federal court. I know this only because I am the one who sued her. Let me be very specific about the outcome of that suit: She was named as a defendant in a federal First Amendment lawsuit, twice refused to settle the case, and thus became the principal defendant in the federal jury trial. The jury, which ironically was made up mostly of women, took less than two hours of deliberation to find the Marxist feminist liable. And (as if you did not see it coming), here is the kicker:
The Marxist feminist loser of the suit was the chosen speaker on constitution day.
This really sums up the problem with constitution day. It was designed to increase respect for the constitution. But Marxists who wish to destroy the constitution have hijacked it. This also sums up the problem with our constitutionally illiterate student body. Tenured radicals who are also constitutional illiterates are teaching them. But like all bigots, they eventually become hostile towards things they do not understand.
Keep that in mind the next time you say that the “solution” to the “problem” of constitutional illiteracy is a return to teaching civics in our public schools. Like our constitution day, a civics class taught by a progressive educator would soon devolve into an attack upon our foundational principles.
A better approach would be a wall of separation between school and state.