Lessons on civics from top coach

Recently in this space, we quoted the Wall Street Journal story in which report­er Melissa Korn wrote, "Many elite (uni­versities) may require students to take courses about events before 1750, or on East Asian and sub-Saharan Africa poli­tics, without also demanding they study the creation of the U.S. Constitution or the Civil Rights movement."

One might think that’s because stu­dents come to college with that knowl­edge already, having been thorough­ly taught such subjects in their high schools. Of course one would be wrong. High schools can be just as remiss as universities.

One exception is Milford High School, where David Alcox has coached Constitu­tion teams to state championships for al­most two decades.

And now he’s branching out in the hope that he can bring his knowledge and teaching skills to adults who didn’t have the advantage of learning from an Alcox in high school or even in college. Here’s how:

Adults who feel there are gaps in their education can take free evening classes in civic literacy offered by Alcox over three Wednesday evenings at Hampshire Hills Athletic Club this summer.

The civic education seminars are open to all adults, who can attend just one, two or all three, and at no cost. The classes can count as continuing education.

Highlights from the high school course, with topics relevant to current events, es­pecially the upcoming elections, in a way that gives them context and background, but without a political slant.

The courses will be abbreviated, but the main ideas from the civic education courses will be there.

We think this is terrific. The fact is, many of us don’t know very much about the history of our nation and in particu­lar, what has come to be called "civics," or at least used to be called civics.

The simplest definition of civics, from Webster, is "a social science dealing with the rights and duties of citizens." That certainly sounds like something that should be taught rigorously in high school and continued in college.

What are our rights under the Constitu­tion? We know some of them: The right to bear arms, the right of free assembly, the right of women to vote … But do we know how to exercise them? Do we know what rights the government has?

What do we know, really? In general, we know the rights we want to know, the rights we want to exercise.

If you’re a gun owner, you sure know your Second Amendment, but what’s the 15th Amendment? It’s an important one: It gave African American men the right to vote. Just as important is the 19th Amend­ment. What’s that, you ask? Well, if you’re a woman, you can thank number 19 for your right to vote.

We take most of our rights for granted and we have no idea what people went through to ensure us those rights, but we ought to know. This is our country, this is our Constitution, and now this is our chance to learn more about them.

Here are the topics that will be dis­cussed:

  • On July 27, the topics will be the phil­osophical and historical foundations the American political system and how the framers created the Constitution.
  • On Aug. 10, the topics will be consti­tutional ideals and Bill of Rights protec­tions.
  • And on Aug. 24, the topics will be American institutions, citizenship and civic engagement.

The classes will run from 6-8 p.m. at Hampshire Hills, in the John Burns room. We should all make the attempt to get there.