Monday, August 16, 2010

Getting a Constitutional Education – Questions for Student Discussion (Part 10)

It’s important that we educate our children on the topics of politics, government, and the Constitution which governs our nation. This nine-part series reminds us of some basic principles, lest they be forgotten by the next generation. The following questions provide material for homeschool and public school teachers to share, discuss, and test their students on each of the nine topics. The link to each article is included, or you may start through the series beginning at Constitutional Education – Free Homeschool Curriculum (a nine-part series, originally published in January/February 2009). The discussion
questions are divided up into three installments, beginning here.


1. Presidential Power (Part 1)

· Which Article of the Constitution deals specifically with the powers given to the President? [Article 2]

· Name two of the six specifically named powers given to the President [Commander in Chief of the military, authority over other members of the Executive branch, the power to grant reprieves and pardons, the ability to make treaties (with congressional approval), the power to nominate ambassadors and Supreme Court justices, and the authority to appoint Senate vacancies during recess periods]

· What is one danger of giving too much power to one person in government? [The founding fathers fled this very situation in England, because the king began exercising authority over areas such as religion – preventing personal freedoms]

· Does the Constitution give the Supreme Court the ultimate authority to rule on the interpretation of the Constitution? [Article 3 of the Constitution enumerates the powers given to the Supreme Court, as does the 11th Amendment. Nowhere in there can one interpret such powers as being given to the Court]

· What are your thoughts on the disagreement between Justice John Marshall and President Andrew Jackson on the power of the Supreme Court? [Jackson appears to argue correctly that the Court was exceeding its authority. Nevertheless, to this day, the Court behaves as if it is the ultimate arbiter on Constitutional law.]

· Extra – Look for news articles, postings or telecasts which may demonstrate the assumption of presidential or Court authority which is not given in the Constitution

2. States’ Rights (Part 2)

· A system emphasizing the idea of states’ rights is called what? [Federalism]

· Have United States Senators always been elected by the people every six years? When did this change, and what changed it? How were they previously selected? [No, U.S. Senators used to be appointed by state legislatures until the adoption of the Seventeenth Amendment in 1913.]

· Do you believe that the founding fathers would place more importance on power emanating from the states or from the federal government? [It seems clear in reviewing the words of most founding fathers and documents such as the Constitution that they favored states’ rights. They seemed opposed to a great deal of authority at the federal level, probably because of their experience with the monarchy back in England. In fact, it took a Constitutional Amendment to change the appointment of Senators to a direct election. If they had to amend the Constitution to provide for this, it seems clear that it was not the founders intent.]

· Extra – In your opinion, is there an important difference between a state-appointed Senator and an elected one? Describe why. Consider what may influence their decision-making in each case.

3. Government Debt (Part 3)

· Does the Constitution allow the federal government to run a deficit and go into debt? [The Constitution does not specifically prohibit debt at the federal government level, and seems to imply that it can assume debt or establish new debt (as in Article 6).]

· Can we get an itemized tax bill from the government telling us exactly where our tax money is being spent? Why would this be a good idea? [Unfortunately, no. It would be good to be able to get one because it would cause the government to have more responsibility in where it spends our money if they knew they were going to have to tell us where every dollar goes. It is too bad that we don’t have this transparency from our government. Note that it doesn’t work the other way – we have to tell the government where we get and spend every dollar of our money when we fill out our yearly tax forms.]

· Does all tax money that is collected this year go only toward programs that happen this year? [No, the government uses a lot of this year’s money to pay for programs that were implemented years ago. Likewise, they use this year’s money to pay interest on borrowing that that did in the past.]

· Extra – What do you think the danger of an increasing national debt could be? [There may come a time when the debt cannot be paid because of a loss of prosperity. If that occurs, other nations who we have borrowed from (such as China) may feel obliged to get their money back through some other means. It also may mean that the world financial markets will switch from their standard currency – the U.S. dollar. This would put the United States on a lower-status financial footing. It may mean that the United States loses its position as a world superpower.]

· Extra – Do you think government spending and debt should be any different than personal spending and debt? Why or why not?


Next in the series
Back to the beginning of the Constitutional Education series

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