Friday, 3 December 2004

Byrd plays curriculum designer

U.S. Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) apparently added a rider ($) to the FY2005 appropriations bill requiring any educational institution receiving federal aid to have some sort of “instructional program on the U.S. Constitution” every September 17, according to today’s Chronicle of Higher Education daily update. (Here’s a link for people not blowing $85/year on the Chronicle.)

Perhaps we political scientists (who, doubtless, will be the individuals subject to this unfunded mandate) should also devote another day—say, December 3—to teaching about the practice of including non-germane provisions in conference reports, thus circumventing the committee system and the rest of the ordinary legislative process. I feel the need for a “teach-in” already.


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I thought that mandatory civics crap ended at the secondary school level.

Frankly I’m all in favor of mandatory education in colleges on the Constitution, but it should probably be in the context of a required course in the American political system as part of one’s degree requirements….


I don’t have a problem if public universities have a civics requirement of some form… what I object to is telling a private college that. And a requirement that we do it on a particular day is just asinine. What’s next? Mandatory MLK teach-ins? Celebrations of Grover Cleveland’s life and work? A required commemoration of Jesus’ role as a political philosopher on Good Friday? Maybe Congress can tell us to stop buying textbooks that say nice things about gay people while they’re at it. (FWIW, if the Solomon Amendment is ultimately found unconstitutional, at least Byrd’s requirement probably is too… although I don’t get to that conclusion under current precedents on such things as the Hyde Amendment and Title IX.)

I’m pretty agnostic on mandatory U.S. government courses in college, although I suppose economic theory says I should be strongly in favor of such rules, since this would increase demand for people with doctorates in political science, thus increasing the market-clearing salary level. I guess I have some sort of irrational moral aversion to engaging in rent-seeking behavior.

[Permalink] 3. flaime wrote @ Fri, 3 Dec 2004, 12:44 pm CST:

Len: What a bad idea…You can’t force people to care about civics. And there is absolutely no value in including civic in a degree program where it has no logical basis.

I think Byrd is just being silly. For one thing, most universities and colleges do have courses on the US Constitution. It’s either a part of the history or poli-sci cirriculum. But requiring everyone to take it isn’t going to make them more informed. People who are forced to take something that doesn’t pertain to their major just do enough to get their grade and usually don’t retain the information anyway. I know that I don’t remember all that much about psych, but I had to take it in college.


If you are required, by federal law, to teach about the Constitution on September 17th, I suggest you focus on the Bill of Rights—especially the bits toward the end.

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