Many college students have become increasingly strident in their views about the U.S. Constitution despite understanding little about the document.
These trends have grown more troublesome in the past few years in the media law course I teach. In the past, most students recognized that they didn’t know too much about the U.S. Constitution. Now many think the most important treatise in U.S. history got many things wrong.
This generation–known as iGen–were born between 1995 and 2012. These young people have spent much of their lives with a smartphone in their hands. Jean Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University, has written about this generation–many of whom populate today’s colleges and universities. “Opposing viewpoints can’t just be argued against; they have to be shut down,” she wrote recently in The Wall Street Journal. For the most part, it appears that these viewpoints come from the social justice warriors they had as teachers.
In an online discussion for my law class, some students said they simply want to do away with the U.S. Constitution and start over. “The Constitution is America’s sacred cow,” one student wrote. “It was written by a bunch of rich, white men to protect other rich, white men. The framers did not trust ‘ordinary’ people to make every day decisions. It is a racist document, although others would argue this. It is completely ambiguous. It was written in 1787 and it is now 2017 and we still refer back to this document and debate what the framers truly meant…. Progressives want government to change things while conservatives favor the status quo.”
The student was nonplussed when I pointed out that 12 states—almost all controlled by Republicans—have passed legislation to call a constitutional convention. The central focus of the bid to rewrite the U.S. Constitution comes from people who want to limit government power. For more information, see http://prospect.org/article/march-toward-constitutional-convention-slows-crawl
The argument that the U.S. Constitution is racist and sexist was a constant theme in the students’ responses.
A typical response came from one student. “It was stated that slavery was not prohibited, and it basically encouraged taxing on these human beings that were deemed as property. One simple section made way for racism, prejudice, and everything in-between…. Since this was the foundation of our country, it has obviously led to more issues involving race hundreds of years later.”
It was rather ironic when I asked if anyone in class whether they could describe the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments for me. No one could. These amendments eliminated slavery and provided the power to enforce the change. No one could name the five freedoms guaranteed under the First Amendment–let alone provide the protections of more than two or three amendments. Alas, that is probably true for many Americans.
Other complaints centered on the right to bear arms under the Second Amendment—a constant meme from leftists, including many educators.
“[T]here is no reason a regular citizen needs an assault rifle for ‘protection,” one student wrote. “It is too vague and has allowed for people to get away with literal murder in some cases because they can invoke their ‘right to bear arms.’”
Anti-Trump sentiment appeared in many comments. Many students thought that the Electoral College should be abandoned because Hillary Clinton won the popular vote in 2016. One student argued that the law should require that presidential candidates must have political experience.
Another student maintained that no one over 50 years old should be allowed to seek the presidency.
“If anyone under the age of 35 is considered too young, then anyone over the age of 50 should be considered too old,” the student argued. “They are still yearning for the good old days, and they try to replicate their youth or young adulthood. They are not in touch with the changes that are going on around them, or they refuse to accept the changes.”
I pointed out that such a requirement would violate laws—much like those against racism and sexism—under which age cannot be used as a criterion for discrimination.
Simply put, the attitudes in the discussion struck me as a fundamental change in the views of my students. I think these attitudes are largely a result of the increased number of social justice warriors in academia.
Unlike many of my colleagues, I don’t impose my conservative views on my students. Nevertheless, I do try to point out the logical fallacies of many of the positions leftists take about the U.S. Constitution.
It appears that I have a lot of work to do this semester.