There was a collective gasp and not a small chuckle from the left at Christine O’Donnell’s recent demand that her opponent, Chris Coons, show her where in the Constitution is separation of church of state. “You’re telling me that’s in the first amendment?”
As easy as it may be for many to enjoy this moment at O’Donnell’s expense, especially considering her current status as a after-thought leading into next week’s elections, we should very wary of simply sighing and shaking our heads while we put this gaffe behind us as the actions of one unqualified senate candidate.
O’Donnell’s ignorance may, in fact, represent the larger by-product of politically and ideologically sheltered education. Texas and Virginia have both made the news this year with attempts to inflect their history books with a certain view of history, but there is certainly no reason to think they were alone. Rick Perry, the soon to be four-term governor of Texas, was one of the first mainstream politicians to ally himself with the Tea Party movement, long before most Americans knew who they were or why they mattered. As the Republican party adjusts to the new found influence of these states’ rights conservatives, Federal oversight of education is likely to be one thing on the chopping block.
The question I ask is this: how are we supposed to protect the fundamental civil rights and civil liberties enjoyed by American citizens if a large segment of the population is never told they exist? As the civil war is repainted as a battle over nullification and the legacy of the Jim Crow South is erased from the history books, will the ideal of a “color-blind” society increasingly be held up while we ignore the lingering effects of centuries of discrimination? As the religious diversity of our nation increases, will the erasure of separation of church and state from the national conscience lead to curtailment of the rights of religious minorities? The list of potential issues that could be shielded from view by an ideologically revisionist education goes on.
Christine O’Donnell is not likely to become a US Senator. But what are we doing as a nation to prepare the next generation of kids that will?