"If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary."
James Madison (Federalist 51)
Surely the next election matters. But what matters more is what we teach our children and what they tradition to their children about the nature of our republic. Our founding documents are great sources for families to teach their children about the foundational truths that will endure long after the next presidency has been eclipsed. These are the fundamental truths that are the cornerstones of our democracy. The first (and arguably the most important of these is that government's power must be limited because men are not angels and power is a corrupting force in the hearts and hands of men.
So let's remind ourselves, our leaders, and our children that no institution or individual was supposed to have unlimited power to exercise over others. Let's remember that the President, Congress, and the Supreme Court should balance and check each other's powers. And finally let's remember that the exercise of power in the name of the common good is often the worst pretense for tyranny.
Documents are rich sources of knowledge. When used correctly, they can enhance our children's reading, reasoning, and writing skills. Unlike secondary commentaries (such as textbooks), our nation's most important documents contain rich veins of complex sentence structures which can be mined for golden nuggets of vocabulary and precious principles for persuasive writing.
While seemingly antiquated words and phrases can make our founding documents seem inaccessible, it's quite possible to make them user-friendly for parents and students by taking a systematic approach to document analysis.
First, I love to introduce my children to the document's historical context: What was happening at the time the document was created.? Who were its primary authors? Why did they feel impelled to write the document?
Next, I find it necessary to help kids to decode the complex vocabulary words that can function as barriers to understanding. I do this by asking them to match synonyms to the underlined words in the text. Then, I turn the actual document into a cloze reading exercise by replacing key words with blank spaces which I ask my students to complete with the actual words and phrases from the document.
After demystifying the document by helping them to become familiar with its terms, I facilitate deeper and more thoughtful interaction by outlining the document's key ideas and arguments as a series of paraphrases which must then be matched to actual statements in the document. This requires a close and repetitive reading of the text itself. After all, the goal is to help young minds to grow by constant and thoughtful interactions with the great minds that wrote these documents.
Next, I list a series of statements and encourage students to use the document to refute or support these statements. In other words, "Would the document's author(s) support or reject the following statements?"
Finally, I ask students to answer a series of comprehension and evaluation questions whose answers must be found in and cited from the text. Students then complete their document analysis by writing a persuasive essay that requires them to discuss the document's enduring significance and relevance.