Over the past few years, the Nord Family Foundation has received requests to support programs that encourage better knowledge of the U.S. Constitution. The Liberty Day project, prints pocket-sized copies of the Constitution which are distributed to schools across the country on “Liberty Day” We provided support to the Bill of Rights Institute for several years but stopped after a sudden administrative house cleaning took place a little over a year ago. (For those in nonprofit work, a turnover of an executive as well as other key staff in a short period of time will flag concern for funders). Finally, the trustees turned down a request from the John Ashbrook Center at Ashland University to support a summer institute for teachers from various States to spend two weeks learning about the U.S. Constitution from a panel of scholars from selected universities across the country. The blatant political bias left some uneasy providing support to that project.
I find it curious with the apparent proliferation of non-school based non-profits that have taken on the responsibility to provide teacher training on the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights. I would agree that a majority of teachers do not fully understand the Constitution. The bitter partisan political debates, the acrimony and personal attacks parallel the vituperation between religious sects and denominations. The middle east is a sad and tragic example and in the west, one only look at the bitterness in Northern Ireland between “Catholics” and “Protestants.” Killing appears to be justified based on one’s interpretation of “truth.”
I struggled with requests to support Constitutional programs, finding hard to discern between what is history and what is political histrionics! Thanks to an article in the January 2011 New Yorker, by Harvard History Profession, Jill Lepore, called “The Commandments-The Constitution and its worshippers.” I think I have better insight. After reading it, I would be interested to know the trustees thoughts on how we should address requests to “teach” the constitution in schools and among the citizenry. Comments are welcome!