Remember the Constitution

Benjamin Paul Meyers

As citizens of the U.S., we have been afforded rights that allow us things such as freedom of speech, the right to privacy and the right to a “speedy and public trial.” Although most Americans know they are afforded rights such as the ones I have just mentioned, many do not have the slightest idea of where these rights are derived. The Constitution of the United States is the supreme law of the land and is the basis from which all laws, statutes and codes are built in this country. Today, however, we find ourselves in a country that lacks most, if not all, constitutional knowledge.

I found it quite astonishing when I asked a student here at Western Illinois University if she could tell me what the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution protects against and she replied, “I don’t know (what) the first three are so I have no clue what the fourth one is.” This was just one example of people, specifically students here on campus, not having the slightest clue about the document that provides them with their basic rights.

On another occasion, I asked another student if he could tell me how many amendments have been made to the Constitution and — after thinking for a while — he confidently answered with: “There are, well I’m pretty sure, 15 Amendments, well at least 15 that matter anyway.” After he told me his answer I explained to him that unfortunately he was wrong and that there are 27 Amendments that have been made to the Constitution and that they all “matter.” He then told me, “It doesn’t matter anyway. The Constitution is stupid.”

As reported by ABC News, in 2011, during the rise of the Tea Party, the majority of American citizens “remain surprisingly ignorant of the founding document’s provisions.” Their claim came from a survey conducted by Newsweek. Seventy percent of the 1,000 citizens polled could not identify the supreme law of the land. Conversely, 73 percent said they knew “some” or a “great deal” about the Constitution and the rights it provides. Beyond those troubling findings, only 36 percent of Americans, as reported by The Washington Post, can name the three branches of government.

It is astounding that there is such a lack of knowledge of the document that is the basis for all law in the U.S. Something drastic needs to be done to fix this growing epidemic, and I believe I have a solution.

The best way to fix this problem at hand is through a mandatory class. There may be a civics requirement in Illinois high schools; however, I think another, more comprehensive class is needed at the college level. What I am proposing is not a course that delves into extensive constitutional history and issues, but rather a course that provides students with a base knowledge of the U.S. Constitution.

I asked one student what the Constitution was and he told me, “The Constitution is an old document written a long time ago by a bunch of men that wore some very weird clothes.” As right as he was in his statement, the U.S. Constitution is much more than some “old document,” it is the supreme law of the land, and it needs to be properly understood by all Americans