Over a year ago, The Nerve published a story about my discovery of a statute that requires public universities and colleges to teach all four-year students about the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, and the Federalist Papers. The Nerve shared with its readers my frustrations that after letters, phone calls, and public questioning, administrators at the University of South Carolina and government officials ignored my sincere questions about the statute and the University’s failure to comply, acknowledged the statute and simply refused to follow the law, and claimed that I was misunderstanding the meaning of the law.
Read about that discovery here.
A year later, with the aid of another USC student, Jameson Broggi, change may be happening. Jameson recently ended a campaign for the office of Student Body President at USC that he had launched in order to raise awareness of this issue; in addition, meetings with members of the General Assembly eventually paid off, and the two of us were able to share news of our efforts over the radio waves and through several publications, beginning last year with The Nerve and most recently with the Associated Press.
But most of the mainstream publications failed to mention one important component of the story. We didn’t merely discover that public colleges were violating the law; we found a possible resolution to the problem with the aid of state legislators.
Recently, Rep. Garry Smith introduced a bill in the House (H. 4483) that would clear up all of the minor grammatical ambiguities in the statue and expose any remaining resistance on part of the public colleges as either disdaining state law or disdaining education in Constitutional principles. Several members of the General Assembly, from both the House and Senate, affirmed their commitment to restoring the public institutions to full compliance with this law. They would do this, they said, by removing members of the schools’ Boards of Trustees if those members continue failing to ensure compliance with state law.
Though some of the administrators have suggested to Broggi and me that Constitutional education is really not more substantively important than other subjects such as art history, there is a marked difference. Possessing or lacking the knowledge of the Constitution can make the difference between a powerless and a powerful citizen. A public school that does not teach a student these things has failed him, and left him impaired in a society in which the state’s authority rests with citizens. Furthermore, there is no reason why art history and Constitutional instruction cannot both be part of a complete education.
It is my hope that the citizens of South Carolina would recognize the importance of this state law, and let their legislators and the Trustees of each public college’s Board know that compliance with the law is not optional. After all, these schools exist not only to make men and women better teachers, engineers, and accountants, but to make them better citizens, armed with the knowledge needed to ready them for the task of responsible self-government.
Editor’s Note: Smith is a graduate of the University of South Carolina and plans on attending the USC School of Law in the fall. He lives in McBee.