EAG News posted this week on the civics handout an Ohio second-grader was given, which disgusted her father so much he had to vent on Facebook.
The document (image below) presented the following to children about rights and government:
When you are a citizen you have rights. Rights are special privileges the government gives you.
In our country…you are…given the right to choose a religion.
The Bill of Rights lists the freedoms given to citizens.
Someday you will be given the right to vote.
The handout also outlines a reciprocal “obligation” of citizens:
Because the government gives us rights, we have the duty to be good citizens. But, what does it mean to be a good citizen? How can you be a part of giving back for the freedom you have?
You won’t be surprised to learn how this handout scopes out good citizenship.
Being friendly to those who are different from you is…part of being a good citizen.
Good citizens…give to the poor…help clean parks…then they help whenever they can.
Using energy wisely, treating animals fairly, and picking up trash all help give back to our country.
Being a member of our country is a wonderful privilege. When you work to be a good citizen, everyone benefits.
The Ohio dad, Andrew Washburn, was unamused.
“I personally hold myself to be a patriot, committed to the spirit of 1776 and the American way of life,” the father tells EAGnews.
“As someone steeped in the Enlightenment philosophies of Locke, Paine, and Jefferson, the idea that government is the fount of our rights is a morally repugnant one to me. The whole tone of that handout seemed to be ‘Government gives you your rights and you should be grateful.’ This is what they taught children in the Soviet Union. In fact, the entire handout smacks of a tribute to Comrade Stalin,” he says.
Washburn and EAG News both did their due diligence on the handout, which came from the website edHelper.com. You can see the copyright date of 2008 on the image; there were reportedly complaints about it in 2009, and the version now available at edHelper is updated. But besides the fact that Washburn’s child’s teacher is still using the old version, there is the problem that the new version is no better. Here is its introductory passage (the full handout can only be accessed at edHelper by establishing a user account):
1 What is a citizen? If you were born in the United States, you are a citizen. That means you are a member of our country. Sometimes people who are not born here want to become citizens. They do this by asking the government to make them a citizen. This is called naturalization.
2 As a citizen you have special privileges called rights. The government protects those rights. In our country, you have the right to free speech. You also have the right to choose a religion. In America, the press is free to tell you what is happening in the world. The Bill of Rights lists the freedoms of its citizens. These rights are very important. Many people in the world do not have the freedoms that we do.
3 Because the government protects our rights, we have the duty to be good citizens. But, what does it mean to be a good citizen? How can you be a part of giving back for the freedom you have?
Although it’s something of an administrative drill to document the update, one reason to do it is to preempt the misleading campaign of an assiduous commenter at other sites where this story has been posted. The commenter, who posts as Lynn Jones Hamilton, proclaims of the 2008 version that “It’s a fake.” (In fact, she posts the same comment over and over again, as seen at this website carrying the story. She has convinced a few readers by this method.)
It’s a fake, find the real worksheet here before you buy into this propaganda
check it out for yourself…
Clearly, it’s not a fake. The Ohio father’s second-grader was given the 2008 handout this year. Moreover, the updated version is obviously based on the same premise: that citizenship under government is what confers rights – and rights themselves are “privileges.” The premise isn’t stated explicitly in the new version, but students are given no other way to think about the matter.
There are many things to object to in this handout, but a downpayment on a full critique would have to include the following.
1. In the American political philosophy, the first principle is that the individual is endowed with rights by his Creator. The individual’s status as a moral being with rights precedes and is superior to his status as the citizen of a nation. Government exists to make his rights secure; the rights his Creator endows him with, no government can justly infringe on.
2. Rights and privileges are two different things. A right is non-contingent – it always applies – and it is good against other people, including the government. That’s what makes it a right. If a right exists, I am bound to respect that right as it applies to you, and vice versa. Your rights affect my plans and what I see as possible, and they must bind government in the same way. The moral foundation of this dynamic precedes government.
A privilege, on the other hand, is contingent. It can be merited, or not, and is defined and conferred by an authority. There can be just, and justly administered, privileges (e.g., the privilege of driving Dad’s car, or of flying a plane in the air, or teaching in accredited schools). But there can be unjust ones too, which are invariably associated with favoritism. History is full of examples of the latter, such as the privileges accorded to whites in the pre-civil rights South, and the privileges now accorded to green-industry cronies of the Obama administration.
3. We have duties as citizens, but they are defined and objective. We lay them on ourselves; government is merely there to administer them. They include things like paying taxes, serving on juries, giving witness in criminal proceedings, obeying the laws in general, and – for men – registering for military service, and serving if called up.
The idea of a “good citizen” is a separate and subjective construct. “Goodness” as a citizen can be defined in a number of ways (e.g., cleaning up parks), and isn’t a substitute for performing a citizen’s defined duties.
Meanwhile, things like staying abreast of current affairs and being a knowledgeable voter are responsibilities of citizens, not prescribed directly by the compact of law, but assumed voluntarily because of a network of good attitudes passed down from parents and maintained by each citizen.
These various concepts need to be kept separate. Above all, they must not under any circumstances be presented as a matter of citizens “giving back” for the government’s care of us.
Second-graders won’t have the cultural knowledge to grasp and internalize a final point. But college students should. It’s this: government, like Soylent Green, is people. Unravel the mystery of government, and all you find is other people making decisions that affect your life. That should color everything you think about government.