Press Release: Why Our Students Need Access to a Modern Constitution

Why Our Students Need Access to a Modern Constitution

By Dr. Henry Bain

High school students should be required to read the Constitution, so goes the cry from some state legislators. It’s an idea that has gained support from the practice of the U. S. House of Representatives, which has lately started each yearly session by the members’ reading the Constitution aloud.

It sounds like a commendable strengthening of the curriculum, bringing students into a first-hand relation with the nation’s founding document, which is the source of government’s power and the rights of the people.

But such a reading would not really be a helpful contribution to the students’ learning about American government and how it works. Anyone who starts out to read the Constitution, in the form in which it is traditionally printed, is soon caught up in a snare of prose that made sense in 1787 but now has no practical significance. Indeed, fully one-fifth of the Constitution’s text is now obsolete.

A student required to read this text would have to wade through such unedifying matter as the provisions for the recapture of slaves that have escaped, and the strict banishment of alcoholic beverages from the land–no manufacture, no sale, no transportation, no importation, no exportation. To force students to wade through all of that text would turn them off at the very moment when they are about to enter the fascinating realm of American government and liberties.

There’s much more in the typical print of the Constitution that works against the student who is told to read it. Antique spellings and grammar give the text an alien flavor, making it seem to come from a different world. Many printings are studded with capital letters, in a manner that violates the rules that the students are taught in their English classes. Many have no headings, which are necessary in any difficult text.

For an informative, indeed an inspiring introduction to the Constitution, students should be freed from the verbiage that is antique, and that might even be regarded as downright insulting by African Americans. We should also spare them a study of the many constitutional provisions of a housekeeping nature, that have served their purposes, such as the declaration that the two-term limit on the President shall not apply to Harry S. Truman.

For today’s students we need the text of the Constitution presented in a well organized and reasonably-easy-to-read format. That means a Constitution with short sentences or phrases.

Long after my student days, I produced such a constitutional text, The Constitution of the United States of America. Modern Edition. Rearranged and Edited for Ease of Reading. It presents the original unchanged text of the Constitution in a logically organized format under a detailed set of explanatory headings.

I hope today’s high school students will get the chance to read the modern edition and think about what they read, turning the Constitution into an instrument for a well informed debate over the big issues of American government today.

Dr. Henry Bain is a constitutional expert, government researcher and author of The Constitution of the United States of America. Modern Edition. Rearranged and Edited for Ease of Reading. He is credited with discovering the only known typo in the Constitution. For more information, please visit,        

No comments :

Post a Comment