Study of the Constitution should play a large role in education

By Ramnath Subramanian / Special to the El Paso Times

Posted: 11/07/2013 12:00:00 AM MST

Students like passing notes in class, especially after instruction is over and work has been completed, and the prospect of silently reading a book does not hold vast appeal.When I was teaching, I used to find notes on the floor that had missed their intended targets. A few even landed on my desk. These paper projectiles were folded neatly and assiduously to aeronautical perfection, and carried inside them, I presumed, information of great import.”A missive that missed,” I said once, picking up one wayward object. “I wonder who wrote this, and to whom it was written.”

A hush fell over the classroom. It was the beginning of the school year, and students were still trying to get a full measure of their teachers.

“Aha!” I said, looking at the face of the projectile, “both the sender’s and addressee’s names are here.” After a pause, I added, “Now, what shall I do with this?”

“When I was in first grade, my teacher taped a note to Javier’s forehead, and made him stand in the corner,” said one boy, in animated tones.

“Read it to the class, Mr. Sub,” said a girl, who had a penchant for the dramatic. “Then post it to the bulletin board.”

I pretended to muse over these options, and then said, “You will agree that the note is a form of communication, and that it has not impeded my instruction or your learning. Further, let me assume that the note does not contain anything that is ugly or unkind. Proceeding from that premise, the right thing to do would be to give the note to the intended recipient.”

Some faces registered disappointment, others surprise.

As I handed the note to its owner, I said, “I hope the writer has used good language and proper grammar.”

In a small way, this lesson in respecting privacy was a precursor to the lessons I delivered in the study of our Constitution.

At my school, during Constitution Week, all teachers were required to spend a day talking to students about America’s venerable document. I spent an entire week on it. I placed special emphasis on the First, Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendments to the Constitution, for these covered areas that I felt children could relate to well.

When school administrators searched lockers for one reason or another, some students expressed constitutional concerns, and I sat down with them and had a discussion.

As I reminisced about these experiences, I wondered what my students would think about the NSA spying scandal that was sweeping over the nation, and even gaining international attention and reproach.

Recently, German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed profound concern over U.S. intelligence allegedly targeting her mobile phone, and said that such an activity would be “a serious breach of trust.” The chancellor’s words carry special weight, for she grew up in East Germany when it was a surveillance state.As the director of the Birla Planetarium in Calcutta, my father traveled to many parts of the world to attend conferences and to record astronomical events. He once was in Jena, East Germany, visiting the firm Carl Zeiss, makers of optical instruments. One of the heads of the organization, a friend of my father, invited him to his home for dinner. During the repast, he informed my father in writing that he could not talk freely because his house may be bugged.For our children, the world will be far more complicated than it ever was for us. We need to prepare them for this world with an education that is firmly sanguine in all aspects of history and the American Constitution.

Ramnath Subramanian, a retired public-school teacher, writes for the El Paso Times on educational topics. E-mail address: