Monday, March 11, 2013

Ninth Amendment

This morning as I stumbled into the local Dunkin Donuts looking half-drunk but really just desperately in need of coffee, I paused to read the morning headline on the Hartford Courant. It said this: “Region’s Firearms Factories Booming.” And that got me thinking about this little story about Nelson, GA (population 1,300) that I’d happened upon the other day. In the town, city council members unanimously approved a proposal that every household in town posses a firearm.[1] Which got me thinking about this tiny little story that I read about the other day, where the governor of South Dakota signed into law a bill specifically authorizing all school employees to carry guns on the job.[2]

And all these gun factories, and gun-stocked houses and towns and gun-toting teachers somehow got my brain thinking about this little gem I read in the Huffington Post a few months back.[3] The article detailed how the U.S. ranked 17th among developed nations for education, and reported findings on a 2009 study in which the U.S. ranked 25th out of 34 developed countries. But the line that swam around in my head the most from this article read like this: “The study notes that while funding is an important factor in strong education systems, cultures supportive of learning is even more critical.”[4]
I turned those words over and over again in my head: a culture supportive of learning. What does our culture support? I look around me. I live in a state where 20 kids went to school one December morning with the expectation of learning and achieving, and they never came home. And our culture is teaching that what we should do in response to this event is make more guns, own more guns, keep them in our houses, and give them to our teachers. That in a society of violence and chaos, the answer is more guns. We are teaching that above all else, we value gun ownership. Are you listening Dylan and Ruby? Join with the NRA today on the steps of the state capital and fight for your right to keep and bear arms! Don’t worry, we’ll teach you fractions later.
And so then I thought, shit. No wonder our kids are so stupid.

We stopped teaching them everything after the 2nd amendment. We regularly show them in our words and actions that we can’t have a substantive debate where we listen and engage with people from different points of view and really hear their words, not shout over them. And so they only see that the people with the loudest voice win the argument. This is what our culture of learning supports. And they never really begin to pick apart arguments and ideas in a way that demonstrates critical thinking and empathy. In 2013, we’ve advanced so far as a society that I can order sushi by pressing one button on a phone the size of a 1984 packet of trident, but I still settle my arguments the old school way – a la Gettysburg. You go on your side – I’ll go on mine. And we’ll shoot blindly – literally and figuratively until one of us falls over. I guess that’s how we’ll figure out who wins.

And in the midst of all of this silliness, they never really hear about some of those other meaningful amendments like one of my personal favorites, the ninth. The 9th amendment states: The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people. Basically, just because our founding fathers didn’t explicitly spell it out 200+ years ago in this document, doesn’t mean you don’t have certain inalienable rights that don’t exist. It’s just that Madison and Jefferson had been going at this stuff all day and even they deserved to just cinch it with a nice little catch all like the ninth so they could grab a pint and watch The Bachelor finale.

And Dylan and Ruby, here is what the ninth amendment means for you. You have the right to teach the grown-ups a different way to do this. To model the world you want to live in, not the one which you are inheriting. To show us that thoughtful words, logic, education, and high expectations can create a rising tide that will lift all of us, even the stupid grown-ups that surround you. Whether it says it or not, you have the right to do better by us than we have by you.


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