Rotary hears the importance of Constitutional knowledge

Published 5:26 pm Tuesday, September 11, 2018

How much do you know about the Constitution of the United States? That was a question posed by Mattie Winburn as she spoke to Bainbridge Rotary on Tuesday.

Winburn is a homeschooled high school senior who confesses that all through her early years of schooling she disliked history.  She found it boring having to memorize names and dates.

Then, she became involved in debating and public speaking and began to delve into the stories of the nation’s past. She became hooked on the Constitution. “It changed my life and I now will share with you my love for the Constitution.”

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She has become a public speaker of note on the subject, having competed in several oratorical contests, and winning the latest American Legion Oratorical Contest. This week she delivered her winning speech to Rotary members, including some disturbing, but hardly unexpected statistics, about the illiteracy that exists among the majority of U.S. citizens regarding the U.S. Constitution.

She quoted a 2006 study that found that only one in 1000 citizens was able to name the five guaranteed freedoms addressed in the First Amendment. Another study found that 64 percent of Americans could not name the three branches of government. 71 percent of adult Americans who were administered the citizenship tests, failed. Testing of college students first as freshmen, then as seniors, revealed they had not gained much constitutional knowledge in four years. They still did not understand how the country was formed.

Winburn said it has also been shown that many elected officials also have illiteracy concerning the Constitution.

At the September 17, 1787 constitutional convention, the question was raised if the country should become a republic, or some other form of government.  Franklin was quoted as responding, ‘A republic, but only if you can keep it.’ Winburn then posed the question how these freedoms can be guaranteed if the public doesn’t know what they are. Another quote attributed to President Ronald Reagan is, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.”

Winburn told how it wasn’t until she completely immersed herself in the United States history and Constitution that she became aware of how previous generations fought and died to preserve our right to live and vote freely. She fears a day when we may have to tell our children what America was like when men were free. She believes it is crucial to survival that we start teaching civics to students from primary school on up. “It should be required to be taught like math and science,” she recommended, indicating civics is not on today’s standardized tests.

Asked about the attitude of other students her age that she meets, she responded, “They are as bored as I was. They aren’t taught it the way it should be. It is all memorization of dates and names.” There are no connecting links presented of what happened.

When asked about her future, Mattie replied she was busy at this time filing college applications, then added, “I plan to pursue constitutional law at some point, somehow, somewhere.”