A discussion arose over at Morgan Freeberg’s House of Eratosthenes blog about equality, and the resident cuttlefish asked a worthwhile question: “Does the government have a role in ending childhood labor, and making sure children have a basic education?” This is a good question. If you are ever asked a similar question, here’s my suggestion of how to respond:  look to the Constitution.

Whenever there is a question of whether government has a role in something, my first act is to look at Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution and see if the powers granted there to the U.S. legislature include that role. Since there are two parts to this question, child labor and education, let’s look at them individually.

Child Labor Laws

The only part of Section 8 that could be applied to child labor laws has come to be known as the Commerce Clause. Specifically, it states that the legislature has the authority to pass laws “[t]o regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes.” That phrase has been the Constitutional justification for nearly every bill Congress writes that regulates any sort of economic activity, even in some cases when the people are not engaging in economic activity.

As interpreted by Congress, any economic activity falls under the Commerce Clause and may be legislated by Congress. I believe that Congress has used the Commerce Clause to legislate far beyond its intended scope, but for argument’s sake, I’m willing to grant Congress a role in ending child labor via the Commerce Clause. Since the resident cuttlefish has demonstrated difficulty with reading comprehension, he asked again, “Does government have a role in ending childhood labor?” So I replied:

Government has no role in ending childhood labor because government has already done away with it. When a college student is getting her first paycheck, the specter of preteen urchins all dirty from coal dust is a century-old issue that doesn’t apply now. If all child labor laws were obliterated tonight because Pres. Obama has a pen, how many preteen youths would show up [at] a coal mining operation tomorrow?

A college girl getting her first paycheck is not the same as kids working in a coal mine.

Hint: These are not the same.

The cuttlefish never answered the question about how many preteen youths would show up at some coal mining plant if Pres. Obama were to obliterate existing child labor laws, but I’ll answer for him: not a one. They would be too busy messing around with TV, computers, games, and cell phones to bother with the responsibility of work.

The question of whether the U.S. government should legislate child labor is a moot issue now – we don’t have child labor, certainly not of the dirty-faced urchin variety, and it’s doubtful that we will ever have it again, not with the workforce participation rates we have now.

Childhood Education

So, what role does the U.S. government have in childhood education? The cuttlefish never got around to pointing out the piece from Section 8 (or any other section of the Constitution) that gives Congress responsibility over education. I must therefore assume that he never addressed it because there is no provision in the Constitution for education. The Ninth and Tenth Amendments make it clear that powers not delegated to the U.S. or denied to the states are held by the states or the people. This makes education a state issue, not a federal issue. And the states have assumed this responsibility, as typified by the Washington State Constitution in Article IX, Section 1:

It is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders, without distinction or preference on account of race, color, caste, or sex.

So, does the U.S. government have a role in childhood education? No. The U.S. and state constitutions show that this role is reserved for the states and the people.  That is what the primary law of the land states, regardless of the other federal and state codes that have sprung up since and attempted to usurp this power.

In the dystopian novel 1984 by George Orwell, the Ministry of Truth — or Minitrue in Newspeak — spent its time revising history to make it conform to the “truth” of the day. If Big Brother made a prediction that chocolate rations would be increased from 5 to 6 oz. a week, but then production fell, causing a reduction from 5 to 4 oz. of chocolate a week, Minitrue would spend its time changing all the previous documents to bring them in line with the new truth: chocolate rations have been increased to 4 oz. each week. If Oceania changed from fighting Eastasia to fighting Eurasia, all documentation everywhere would be edited to reflect the new truth, as explained in chapter 3 of the novel:

Oceania was at war with Eurasia and in alliance with Eastasia. In no public or private utterance was it ever admitted that the three powers had at any time been grouped along different lines. Actually, as Winston well knew, it was only four years since Oceania had been at war with Eastasia and in alliance with Eurasia. But that was merely a piece of furtive knowledge which he happened to possess because his memory was not satisfactorily under control. Officially the change of partners had never happened. Oceania was at war with Eurasia: therefore Oceania had always been at war with Eurasia.

…The Party said that Oceania had never been in alliance with Eurasia. He, Winston Smith, knew that Oceania had been in alliance with Eurasia as short a time as four years ago. But where did that knowledge exist? Only in his own consciousness, which in any case must soon be annihilated. And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed — if all records told the same tale — then the lie passed into history and became truth. ‘Who controls the past,’ ran the Party slogan, ‘controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.’

Which brings me to a very interesting report coming out of England today. The Daily Mail reports that British educators are dropping the Holocaust and the Crusades from their history lessons:

Schools are dropping the Holocaust from history lessons to avoid offending Muslim pupils, a Government backed study has revealed.

It found some teachers are reluctant to cover the atrocity for fear of upsetting students whose beliefs include Holocaust denial.

There is also resistance to tackling the 11th century Crusades — where Christians fought Muslim armies for control of Jerusalem — because lessons often contradict what is taught in local mosques.

There goes history down the memory hole, thanks to the Minitrue-like actions of these teachers. To them, not giving offense is more important than teaching history. Not challenging the religious education that students get at home or elsewhere is more important than teaching history. Perhaps most amazing of all, this is occurring in a nation which until relatively recently had an official state religion, and where religious education is part of the national school curriculum. (By comparison, imagine American teachers voluntarily choosing not to teach evolutionary theory in science classes because it might conflict with the religious education their students receive at home. As our friends the Brits would say, “Not bloody likely.”)

I believe this squeamishness over teaching truth and the squishiness regarding facts and history come from the multi-cultural idea that there are no absolute truths in life. This can be clearly seen in a comment attached to the Daily Mail news article which stated, “There is more than one truth, there are many truths, each version is true to the individual.”

What complete and utter bunk!

History is, or should be, the study of past events. What happened? When did it happen? Who was involved? These questions will lead you to facts. History can also deal with issues that are harder to prove, such as answering the question “Why did it happen?”. But asking “why” more often than not leads to the teaching of opinion rather than fact, and I prefer history classes based more on fact and less on opinion. I like what Lazarus Long said about facts:

What are the facts? Again and again and again — what are the facts? Shun wishful thinking, ignore divine revelation, forget what “the stars foretell,” avoid opinion, care not what the neighbors think, never mind the unguessable “verdict of history” — what are the facts, and to how many decimal places? You pilot always into an unknown future; facts are your single clue. Get the facts!

When you are afraid to teach facts for fear of offending or contradicting someone else, you shouldn’t be a teacher. And if you avoid facts because they offend or contradict someone else, you really shouldn’t be a teacher. Ignoring or circumventing the facts is a surefire recipe for sub-standard education, and sub-standard education is what is happening in England:

The researchers also warned that a lack of subject knowledge among teachers — particularly at primary level — was leading to history being taught in a ‘shallow way leading to routine and superficial learning’.

Lessons in difficult topics were too often ‘bland, simplistic and unproblematic’ and bored pupils.

If you don’t teach the facts, don’t be surprised if your students grow up to believe that Oceania has always been at war with Eurasia — or anything else they are told.

Thomas Sowell has a great column about the brainwashing kids get in classrooms. And when the lecture is about politics, it’s no wonder that the slant is to the Left. He points out that “Stanford University, for example, the faculty includes 275 registered Democrats and 36 registered Republicans.” That’s 7 to 1 odds you’ll get a Democrat teaching your class.

Here are the first few paragraphs of Sowell’s column. It’s well worth reading the whole thing.

Governor Bill Owens of Colorado has cut through the cant about “free speech” and come to the defense of a 16-year-old high school student who tape-recorded his geography teacher using class time to rant against President Bush and compare him to Hitler.

The teacher’s lawyer talks about First Amendment rights to free speech but free speech has never meant speech free of consequences. Even aside from laws against libel or extortion, you can insult your boss or your spouse only at your own risk.

Unfortunately, there is much confusion about both free speech and academic freedom. At too many schools and colleges across the country, teachers feel free to use a captive audience to vent their politics when they are supposed to be teaching geography or math or other subjects.

While the public occasionally hears about weird rantings by some teacher or professor, what seldom gets any media attention is the far more pervasive classroom brainwashing by people whose views may not be so extreme, but are no less irrelevant to what they are being paid to teach. Some say teachers should give “both sides” — but they should give neither side if it is off the subject.

Kudos to Sean Allen for taping his World Geography teacher, Jay Bennish, in his President Bush-bashing, capitalism-trashing rant. Here’s a snippet that caught my eye when I read it:

Bennish: Who is probably the single most violent nation on planet Earth?!

Unidentified student: We are.

Bennish: The United States of America! And we’re a democracy. Quote-unquote.

No, Bennish, we are a representative Republic. There is a difference. Bennish needs to be fired. Not because he is a liberal, and not because he bashes our President and nation. He needs to be fired because he is incompetent geography teacher. He has whined that his First Amendment right of free speech has been violated. But that is a bogus argument. He is still free to peddle his views on the TV, his home, on the street, or in a blog, but when he is being paid to teach geography, he should teach geography. Allen was not wrong to tape his teacher. And taping your teacher’s lectures is not a violation of the teacher’s privacy. When the teacher is being paid by public funds to teach in a public school, and he gives a public address in the public class before a group of kids, what he says is far from private.

The Republican National Convention is going on right now, but surprisingly, I’m not going to write much about political stuff today. While I have been too busy with life to follow either this or the Democratic convention live, I have been able to read the various addresses people have given. Mainly, though, I have been watching the crazed antics of people protesting the Republican convention. Ryan Sager, a member of The New York Post editorial board, has captured some of the demonstrations on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. I’m sure there will be more on his site as the days progress.

While observing these demonstrators, I was struck by the large number of young people present. Why are they there protesting? How much do they really know about the issues? All of this made me think about the life-changing events that most, but not all, of us go through in our lives. Let’s focus on an archetypal John and Jane Doe and some of the Life-Changing Events (or LCEs) they are likely encounter. While these events have the potential to change lives, not everyone will be affected in the same way or to the same degree. With that in mind, let’s look at a few LCEs.

Becoming an adult — John and Jane Doe can reach the legal age of maturity, can demand that people treat them as adults, but it does not necessarily follow that they will be universally recognized as such. Generally speaking, when one demands to be treated as an adult, it is a sign that one has not yet demonstrated adult levels of responsibility. Being an adult means recognizing that one is responsible for one’s own life, and acting accordingly. When does someone become an adult? Well, there isn’t a firm age at which this happens, since assumption of adult responsibilities occurs at different times for different people. For instance, it is possible for a teenager to sue for the right to be an emancipated minor, taking on adult responsibilities before he or she turns 18. If the suit is successful, the teen stops being a ward of his or her parents and is now the primary person responsible for his or her own welfare. I’ve put this LCE first as it is, chronologically, often the first such event in John and Jane’s life, but it is difficult to quantify when adulthood begins. Unfortunately, there are many grown individuals who never become adults in the defined sense, because they never become fully responsible for themselves. But enough of this vague stuff; let’s look at more concrete LCEs.

Living on your own — This LCE could happen to John and Jane Doe before reaching adulthood, but more often it is tied to the experience. Whether John decides to strike out on his own, or Jane’s parents kick her out of the nest, leaving home is a major step in the process toward maturity. Leaving home is a huge LCE. No longer is Mom there to wake John up for his classes, or to tell Jane to clean her room. John and Jane can stay up as late as they want, eat and drink what they want, and come and go as they want. But this new freedom also unleashes other freedoms: to fail their classes, to live in the filth they create, and to cheese off their roommates as they come stumbling in during the wee hours of the morning. One of the life lessons that comes from living away from home is learning to shoulder responsibility, including the need to pay one’s share of the food, rent and maintenance. For many Johns and Janes, the shock of having to do their own laundry and wash their own dishes is a cold splash of reality that can shock them into becoming more responsible. The parents who dealt with years of finicky John and Jane turning up their noses at the meal set before them can look forward to a time when their newly-independent children lament how their overcooked ramen noodles or mac ‘n’ cheese just don’t taste as good as the Sunday roast Mom used to make.

Getting a job — The first time John and Jane get a job, it will likely be drudgery at low wages. But life is often not fun, and yet it must still be lived. A job teaches a willing learner to show up on time, work until the task is complete, work even when it isn’t enjoyable, and deal with bosses and co-workers whom he or she may not like at all. And the first time John and Jane notice the difference between their take-home pay and their gross pay, the whole concept of income tax will hit them like a ton of 1040 EZ forms. There are so many good life lessons that can come from a job. Ideally, John and Jane Doe should get a job while still in their teen years. How much better off they will be if they have mastered early the skills a job can teach, rather than waiting until after they’ve finished school!

Getting an education — This education can be in the form of a community college, a university, a trade school, or a craft apprenticeship. Since life is a continuing education in one form or other, learning how to study and master new ideas and skills is vital. Depending on John and Jane’s experiences, going to college may be the first time they leave home and venture out on their own. Since our culture conveys most information through text, two key educational skills are learning to read and learning to love reading. These skills will carry over into nearly every other area of John and Jane’s adult life.

Getting married — Until John and Jane Doe get married (and I hope they marry other people, since they are siblings — eww), their main focus is inward: my education, my job, my money, my dreams, my wants, my needs. But a marriage is not just one person; it is a blending of two lives. At this point, the focus becomes shared: our education, our job, our money, our dreams, our wants, our needs. To make their marriages work, John and Jane had better spend time focusing on their spouses. A truly loving marriage is demonstrated by how much each spouse focuses on the other, rather than on the self.

Having kids — If getting married turns the focus away from yourself and puts it on another, then the act of having and raising kids will continue to amplify this process. While John and Jane may love their spouses (if the plural of mouse is mice, why isn’t the plural of spouse properly spice?), an adult will not need anywhere near the constant care and attention that a newborn baby demands. How many times do we hear of a parent who sacrifices time, money, labor, and life to care for his or her child? Becoming a parent is almost always a Life-Changing Event. In the film Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, a father and son have a heated exchange where the father talks about the sacrifices he made for his son, working as a mailman so his son could go to college; he claims that his son owes him for those sacrifices. The son’s response may seem at first insensitive, but is actually very wise: “I owe you nothing, Dad. If you carried that mailbag a million miles, you did what you were supposed to do. You owed me everything you could ever do for me, just as I will owe my kids.” The son understands what the father did not: that sacrifice for one’s children is a necessary and inextricable part of parenting.

So many of the protesters I see in New York appear to be young, and I can’t help but think that most have had very few LCEs in their lives. I don’t worry about that too much; given time, that will change. I feel truly sorry for the older people who have presumably had many experiences in life, but who have failed to experience a life-changing event.

The Constitution is the law of the land.

That is a phrase often spoken by people in the press or our elected officials as they press the flesh in their attempt to be re-elected. But once they are voted into office, how much do they really uphold it?

Section 8 of the first Article in the U.S. Constitution outlines the responsibilities of Congress. If it is not listed in that section, Congress does not have the responsibility or authority to pass laws about it. Unless you have read that section within the last week, please click on it and read it now. I will wait right here until you are finished.

Done? Good. Did you read anything in there about education, welfare, or the environment? What about Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid? Did you notice that none of these programs are listed in the Constitution as responsibilities of the federal government? Each time people are sworn into the House or Senate, they swear or affirm to defend and protect the Constitution. But each law they pass without a constitutional mandate is another blow to our Constitution as the law of the land. Each time they pass a law without the authority to do so, they prove that their oaths to support the Constitution are just so much legislative hot air.

Here is another case in point. Jim Abrams, a writer for the Associated Press, wrote an article titled “Senate approves pay increase for itself” on Oct. 23. In this article, he points out that Congress will receive a pay increase during 2004, rising from $154,700 to $158,000. In a 60-34 vote on Thursday, the Senate rejected a proposal that would exempt it from a cost of living adjustment (COLA) targeted to all other federal workers and military personnel. In the previous month, the House rejected a similar proposal to exempt itself from this COLA.

As much as I dislike the other political ideas and actions of Democrat Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, I admire him for standing up against this COLA. He pointed out that in the last five years, the Senate has seen increases totaling $21,000–quite a nice sum. Sen. Feingold even went as far as to suggest that anything above his starting salary of almost six years ago should be returned to the Treasury. In this situation, I admire Sen. Feingold’s stand much more than that of Republican Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. “I think that our representatives of government deserve a pay raise consistent with the work that we’ve produced,” he said. Do you, Senator? Then draft specific legislation that will give you this well-deserved pay raise. Do not continue this back-door method of getting more money.

It must be pretty nice to be able to approve your own pay raise. However, there is a little snag in this rosy plan: the Constitution. The 27th Amendment, ratified in 1992, says, “No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.” This means that any raises or cutbacks to members of the House or Senate do not take effect until after the national November elections for Representatives. Since 2003 is not such a year, this COLA should not take effect until at least Wednesday, November 3, 2004. But this pay increase is scheduled to take effect with the first paycheck written by the U.S. Treasury in January 2004, because the majority of the people serving in the House and Senate are more interested in making a few thousand dollars more each year than in honoring their oaths to “support and defend the Constitution.” Nor is the Legislative Branch willing to “bear true faith and allegiance” to the document it pretends to revere.

“This is not a pay raise. This is an increase that’s required by law,” said Constitution-ignoring Republican Senator Ted Stevens, the Senate Appropriations Committee chairman from Alaska. He obviously wants the money more than he cares to honor the Constitution. Since this law automatically increases the pay of the Senate and House, it cannot legally take effect until November 2004, but Sen. Stevens has already turned a blind eye to the Constitutional requirement by ignoring the very nature of this pay increase. A rose is still a rose, even if you call it a shovel, Senator. And this cost of living increase will raise your pay; therefore, it is a pay raise. To quote Conan O’Brien, “Duh!”

Democrat Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware voted against the Feingold measure. He called this a “no-win situation under any circumstances” since the people would not accept any dollar amount for a pay increase for the Legislature. Well, if the Legislature can point out the many wonderful work it has completed in the past year, the people will stand behind the increase. But since the nation has been economically rocky for the last few years, just how happy do you think the public will be to view these legislators increasing their paychecks at the expense of families just trying to find work or make ends meet?

I am not all that concerned about the amount of money involved. When you consider just how much power a Senator or Representative has, it is amazing just how little he or she is paid. The leaders of large business corporations, who have much less power to affect our daily lives, are paid many times more than anyone in government. Even the President is only paid $400,000 a year, and he is the leader of the greatest nation on Earth! My primary concern is over the all-too-common disregard for Constitutional authority. The Constitution gives the government the power and permission to act, and when members of the Legislature vote to line their pockets and no one stands up for the 27th Amendment, I realize just how forsworn our elected leaders are.

Each time the Legislature passes another law dealing with welfare, education, or the environment, it is collectively thumbing its nose at the Constitution. So we should not be surprised when in a few months, the Legislature will start cashing larger paychecks regardless of Constitutional amendments against it. Senators and Representatives have shown that the Constitution usually stands in their way, and they do not care if the people see them do this. They know we are too involved with “The Next Joe Millionaire” to care about the unconstitutional acts of our elected leaders. Shame on them, and shame on us.