NORMAN — To conclude what University of Oklahoma President David Boren called “one of the most important single-day programs in American history ever held in our state,” all six of the day’s Teach-In speakers convened in Paul F. Sharp concert hall for a panel discussion moderated by nationally-acclaimed talk show host Diane Rehm.
Joining them was Kyle Harper, director of the OU Institute for American Constitutional Heritage and an assistant professor in the OU Department of Classics and Letters.
The discussion topic was “The Teaching of Constitutional History in the 21st Century University,” and, in his introduction, Boren called a nationwide lack of knowledge on the U.S. Constitution “very alarming,” stating that college graduates with only one government or U.S. history course on their transcripts “Do not meet (his) definition of a well-educated person.”
Rehm’s primary question drew from this statement and prompted panelists to identify the shortcomings at the center of this trend of ignorance, with replies covering a broad range of issues.
Pulitzer prize-winning historian David McCullough answered first, saying that we must support teachers fully and not blame them, rather understanding that true civic involvement and understanding begins at home, with primary responsibility resting on parents.
Yale professor Akhil Reed Amar agreed, praising his parents’ inspiring him at an early age with visits to Mount Vernon and the White House, and saying college is “a bit late” to begin forming good civic habits.
Another prominent point of concurrence was that educators and Americans in general must avoid a tendency to separate themselves from their founders and foundational documents, viewing the country’s founders as far-distant heroes and the Constitution as untouchable.
In their responses, Rosemarie Zagarri and Peter Onuf called attention to the Constitution’s contingency elements, showing how the founders themselves recognized their government and personal judgment as imperfect, and expecting the people to be involved in its processes.