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Government As It Ought To Be Taught

By Dr. Arthur Robinson
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #18, 1997.

Trust and parrot? No way!
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Dr. Arthur Robinson

As our children go through life, they will continually interact with government. Under present conditions in the United States, government will confiscate about half of everything they ever earn - through direct taxes on their wages and taxes on the people and institutions with whom they conduct business. Government regulations and bureaucrats will limit their activities in business, recreation, home life, and even in the exercise of their Christian faith. Government may draft them to fight in war. Virtually every newspaper they read will be filled with reports of the actions of federal, state, and local government.

Clearly, our homeschools must teach children about government. This education is complicated by the fact that we have essentially two classes of governments - the ones that Americans have agreed to under the federal Constitution and Bill of Rights, state constitutions, and local charters and the ones that we live under, which are quite different. Perpetuated by now vast bureaucracies and often unprincipled politicians, these governments have assumed roles that are not specified or permitted by agreement with the people. This second class - the government we have today - continually spends vast resources "educating" the people with propaganda activities. About which class of government should we teach our children? The practical answer must be both.

Original Writings

In the early years of homeschooling, education about American government can be restricted largely to the study of history. The minds of children who are still too young to comprehend the details of government documents can learn the underlying concepts through the eyes of those who created them. This can be done by studying appropriate history books or by reading biographies, autobiographies, and other writings about and by those who created our government. I much prefer the teaching of history through autobiographies.

Autobiographies are enjoyable to read and give the most accurate account of history possible, since they were written by those who made history and actually participated in the events. No account written by a human being is ever completely unbiased or perfectly accurate, but autobiography is the closest to the truth that we can read - especially if we include autobiographies from several points of view.

For example, the War Between the States can be studied by reading the autobiographies of U.S. Grant and William Sherman and the writings of Abraham Lincoln on the Union side and the autobiographies of Jefferson Davis and Alexander Stephens (president and vice-president of the Confederacy) on the Confederate Side. Adding the autobiography of Booker T. Washington for a view of post-Civil War America is also valuable. Alternately, one could read a textbook about the civil war by some modern historian; one who will probably give an account that fits the particular social agenda that the writer wishes to promote. The autobiographical method is much more accurate.

As the student grows older, the actual documents of government should be studied - the documents themselves and not textbooks telling about the documents. There is no substitute for studying the Constitution and the Bill of Rights in their entirety. But what about explaining them to the student? Again, the original is better. The student should read the Federalist Papers and other writings in which the founding fathers themselves debated the issues underlying their creation of our government.

In addition, the student should read autobiographical writings such as those by George Washington and Benjamin Franklin; books by scholars who influenced the founding fathers or who eloquently described their principles such as John Locke, Frederick Bastiat, and Adam Smith; and later writers who worked to perpetuate their principles such as David Crockett, Henry Hazlitt, and Leonard Read.

These are not just dry, scholarly works. The autobiographies of great Americans and the principal writings by which they attempted to influence events are some of the most interesting and entertaining books in the English language - written with the skill and erudition that we would like our children to emulate in their own writing and speech.

Thinking for Themselves

Petr Beckmann, an outstanding American scientist who was a refugee from Communist Czechoslovakia, wrote often about the "trust and parrot" method by which too many Americans form their opinions - especially about science. He wrote many articles in which he urged his readers to not believe him. Instead, he gave them the primary scientific references and asked them to read those documents and compare their conclusions with his own.

In learning about government (or anything else, for that matter), our children should not be taught to "trust and parrot." They should not be taught to form their principles and opinions by reading overviews, or watching news programs, in which the writer or anchorman leads them to interpret facts in accordance with his own agenda. History textbooks - especially modern politically-correct texts, and even those written by people in whom we have confidence - usually contribute to trust-and-parrot thinking. Students should be taught to learn about history and government by unabridged complete writings of those who made history and created government - and then forming their own opinions of the events.

With a firm foundation in American government as it was created, the student is then well-prepared to study government as it is currently practiced and reported in the daily media. The difference is, of course, astonishing. The last and best hope for the long-term preservation of American freedom and the remarkable legacy of the constitutional republic created by our founding fathers is in the education of young Americans to think and learn for themselves the truth about government as it ought to be.

Our predecessors have written and bequeathed to us a wonderful literature from which these can be learned. It is our duty to provide this literature to our children along with study habits and a study environment in which it can be effectively read and understood.

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