Clicking on banner ads enables JWR to constantly improve
Jewish World Review June 12, 2000 / 9 Sivan, 5760

Nat Hentoff

JWR's Pundits
World Editorial
Cartoon Showcase

Mallard Fillmore

Michael Barone
Mona Charen
Linda Chavez
Ann Coulter
Greg Crosby
Larry Elder
Don Feder
Suzanne Fields
Paul Greenberg
Bob Greene
Betsy Hart
David Horowitz
Marianne Jennings
Michael Kelly
Mort Kondracke
Ch. Krauthammer
Lawrence Kudlow
Dr. Laura
John Leo
David Limbaugh
Michelle Malkin
Chris Matthews
Michael Medved
Kathleen Parker
Wes Pruden
Debbie Schlussel
Sam Schulman
Roger Simon
Tony Snow
Thomas Sowell
Cal Thomas
Jonathan S. Tobin
Ben Wattenberg
George Will
Bruce Williams
Walter Williams
Mort Zuckerman

Consumer Reports

Students discover the Constitution -- IN MIAMI, a couple of years ago, I was asked to talk to a large number of high-school students about the Constitution. Before I began, one of their teachers told me, "Don't be upset if you can't hold their attention. All they really care about is music and clothes."

I told them stories about how Americans fought for and gained our liberties. One of the main causes of the American Revolution, I said, was the furious frustration of the colonists, whose homes and businesses were raided at will by British troops looking for contraband and turning everything upside down, including the early Americans. And that's why, I added, we have a Fourth Amendment to the Bill of Rights. I also told of cases in which students had gone to court to establish their constitutional rights.

They listened intently, and at the end there was a standing ovation. Not for me, but for their discovery of America!

But most students in the nation are as ignorant as the general public is of their constitutional liberties and responsibilities. Not knowing their own rights, they are indifferent to the abuse of the constitutional liberties of others. But, at last, there is now an extraordinarily clear and compelling book about the Constitution for high-school students, as well as for their teachers and librarians.

"We the Students: Supreme Court Cases For and About Students" is published by Congressional Quarterly in Washington, and is co-sponsored by the Supreme Court Historical Society. (I believe it is the most important book the Society, of which I am a member, has ever sent forth because its young readers will, in years to come, spread the word about why and how we have more freedom -- if we use it -- than any other country.)

The author of the book is Professor Jamin B. Raskin of American University's Washington College of Law.

The range of Supreme Court decisions on student constitutional rights is all here: the right to speak and not to speak; freedom of the student press; free exercise of religion and nonestablishment of religion in the schools; the limits of searches of students and their belongings; the due-process rights of students; school segregation and integration; harassment by teachers and by students; and a section on abortion and birth control.

Purchasing this book
-- linked in 5th paragraph --
helps fund JWR
Raskin even tells students how to brief a case as they go to court. He doesn't include what Justice William Brennan used to advise constitutional lawyers in his later years on the Supreme Court: "If your state constitution has stronger rights and liberties than the federal Constitution, do not include any reference to the federal Constitution in your brief. If you do, Chief Justice Rehnquist will snatch the case away from the state court, and you may lose."

Jamin Raskin was not content to enclose these student rights and liberties in a book. He has developed a constitutional-law curriculum based on "We the Students" that he intends to make available to high schools across the nation.

Already, students in District of Columbia high schools are discovering that -- as Chief Justice John Marshall said at the dawn of the American republic -- "the Constitution is a living document." As The Washington Times reported in December 1999, teams of American University law students -- Marshall-Brennan Fellows -- are in a number of Washington high schools telling students why they are Americans. The Raskin Awakening is sorely needed throughout the country because a national test last year revealed that, as Andrea Billups noted in The Washington Times, "One-third of America's high school seniors lack even a basic knowledge of how their government is run." It's even worse than that, as I can testify after visiting high schools in a number of states through the years.

One of the most enthusiastic tutors joining the Brennan-Marshall Fellows in the "We the Students" program is Kenneth Starr, who teaches once a week at Anacostia High School in southeastern Washington.

I doubt that many -- or any -- of the White House crew and their allies in the media who demonized Starr during the impeachment process have ever been in that high school, which is in a largely black part of Washington, let alone devoted time to making the Constitution come off the pages for these students. It's just as well. I'd hate to have the Constitution interpreted by those malign spinners.

In a recent conversation, Starr sounded delighted with his current role, and pointed out that "the students are very sensitive to issues of order and an ordered society because many of them live where they need more order, a more structured environment."

He takes them to hear oral arguments at the Supreme Court and, he tells me, he wishes the Court would open up those arguments to the public by broadcasting them on television to the nation.

So do I. man.

JWR contributor Nat Hentoff is a First Amendment authority and author of numerous books. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


06/06/00: The Liar's legacy and America's delusions
05/30/00: Reining in the majority's will
05/23/00: Press swoons for a bunco artist
05/15/00: The China that tourists don't see
05/08/00: The coverage of Reno's lawless raid
05/01/00: In Clinton and Castro's best interests
04/24/00: Elian's human rights
04/17/00: Crime's down, but arrests keep rising
04/10/00: Teacher brings Constitution to life
04/03/00: The Americans who keep disappearing
03/27/00: The censoring of feminist history
03/20/00: Should there be a chaplain in Congress?
03/13/00: Big labor, big China, spinning Gore
03/03/00: The ACLU violates its principles --- yet again!
02/28/00: Still two nations?
02/11/00: You bet we should disbar Bubba
01/31/00: Where was Jesse?
01/24/00: Is suing church for sexual harassment an entanglement?
01/18/00: Will Miranda make it?
01/11/00: ACLU: Guilty until presumed innocent?
01/03/00: Liberty lion should be Man of Century
12/28/99: Drug tests that tear families apart
12/20/99: Get ready for decisive ruling on school vouchers for religious schools
12/13/99: Guess who is taking the lead in anti-slavery movement? Hint: It ain't Rev. Jesse
12/06/99: When we refuse to buy the 'otherly-challenged' excuse
11/29/99: Expelling 'Huck Finn'
11/22/99: Pleading the First
11/16/99: Goal of diversity needs rethinking?
11/08/99: Prosecution in darkness
11/02/99: The accuracy that's owed to readers
10/26/99: Disappeared Americans
10/18/99: The blue wall of silence
10/11/99: Bill Bradley's speech tax
10/04/99: 'Technicalities' that keep us free
09/27/99: Our 'Americanism'-ignorant generation
09/20/99: ACLU better clean up its act
09/13/99: A professor of infanticide at Princeton
09/07/99: The Big Apple's Rotten Policing
08/23/99: Lawyerly ethics
08/16/99: To Get a Supreme Court Seat
08/02/99: What are the poor people doing tonight?
07/26/99: Lady Hillary and the press

© 2000, NEA