Byrd Requires Colleges Teach Constitution
Colleges Would Be Required to Teach the Constitution, Under Provision Tucked Into Spending Bill (Chronicle of Higher Education)
Sen. Robert C. Byrd, a West Virginia Democrat and the Senate’s unofficial constitutional scholar, has inserted language into the final $388-billion spending bill for 2005 requiring that any educational institution that receives federal aid offer its students an instructional program on the U.S. Constitution each September 17, the anniversary of its signing.
The provision took higher-education leaders by surprise. They said they had not been consulted about it. Because the rider does not specifically exclude colleges, higher-education officials assume it applies to their institutions, as well as elementary and secondary schools, said Becky Timmons, director of government relations at the American Council on Education, an umbrella group that lobbies for colleges.
A spokesman for Senator Byrd, Tom Gavin, said the measure would apply to all public and private institutions, including colleges, that receive federal money.
Ms. Timmons said college leaders are concerned that the provision could set a precedent in which Congress feels free to issue curricular requirements. The U.S. Department of Education is expressly prohibited from establishing a national curriculum.
While I am in rare agreement with Senator Byrd that Americans are woefully uninformed about our Constitution, this provision is plainly idiotic. From a simple logistical standpoint, there are undoubtedly institutions that do not hold classes on September 13. Do they risk losing funding? And what of students whose humanities and social sciences courses fall on other days? Or who only attend school certain days of the week? Presumably, they’d continue to be Constitutional ignoramuses unless some accomodation were reached. And, as Steven Taylor notes, the vast majority of teachers are simply unqualified to teach on this subject. Indeed, even for those of us qualified to teach the subject, one day is hardly adequate to the task.
More seriously, however well intentioned, this opens a Pandora’s Box of educational micromanagement by legislation. Surely, we don’t want Congress to design our course syllabi.
(Hat tip to Chris Lawerence)