General Question

elbanditoroso's avatar

Should an educated American know what all of the amendments to the Constitution are, by heart?

Asked by elbanditoroso (28883points) November 30th, 2015

We all know a couple of the important ones -

First amendment = free speech
Second amendment = bearing arms
Fifth amendment = bear witness against ones self
Tenth amendment = the states have rights

and so on.

But there are a total of 27 amendments that have been passed (and one repealed).

I’m not asking for a list – those are easy to find.

The question is more fundamental.

Should an educated and culturally literate American citizen know (and be able to identify) all of the amendments to the constitution by heart?

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38 Answers

stanleybmanly's avatar

I certainly couldn’t pull all of them up, but an educated American should at least have been exposed to them to the extent that they are recognized when referenced. eg. Obama’s 3rd term.

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

It’s a good idea to look them over every once in awhile. Ask yourself what they mean, even if you have to look at the case law that led to them. It’s all here on the net.

Right now, the 14th is pretty important.

Strauss's avatar

I don’t think it’s necessary to know all the amendments by heart, but at least to look them up, and to be familiar with the reason they came to be.

Pandora's avatar

Yes. We should all be required to, and it should be explained over and over till it gets through thick skulls before their minds are fully formed and filled with ignorant stuff they are told at home.

marinelife's avatar

Why? One can look them up. Since they are now part of the Constitution, why do we have to know they are amendments and which ones they are?

stanleybmanly's avatar

@marinelife It isn’t enough just to be able to look things up. It’s important to have certain facts buried within you in order to discern the truth. And those amendments figure mightily in the BIG truths about this country. For example, if some politician mentions that Martha Washington voted for her husband, you can see the statement (and him) for what it is.

Response moderated
Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

It’s nice when one of our elected representatives or someone like Trump, Hannity, Limbaugh or even someone on Pacifica Radio advocates something that you immediately know is unconstitutional and you can say “Bullshit” out loud—and know why. It saves an enormous amount of time and argument, and you’re way ahead of these people and their ignorant ideas. Familiarity with the constitution in these instances gives you clarity and confidence in your own ideas. I don’t think you have to know the constitution by rote in order to do that, but a good understanding of it and where to look into the case law and traditions that led up to it is a very good thing.

We’re lucky. We probably the have shortest, most clearly written constitution in the world.

Lightlyseared's avatar

Why just the amendments?

stanleybmanly's avatar

@marinelife I agree that the specific numbers are not nearly as important as recognizing one of the amendments when it applies, and I guarantee you that dozens of times today you will do things ( and they will be done to you) that hinge on several of those amendments.

marinelife's avatar

@stanleybmanly And one can know those principles without knowing that they are amendments or which number they are. I think knowing the precepts of the Constitution is important, but not knowing the amendments.

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

It should be part of public education. We should all be constitutional scholars to some degree. The more we are removed from it the easier it is to be removed from it.

Rarebear's avatar

Of course not.

stanleybmanly's avatar

@marinelife I think you’re wrong, and too much of what is being done to us happens because far too many of us “just don’t know”. The first 10 amendments are drilled into us as kids. But it’s only 1, 2, 4 and 5 that stick along with 14. But if you think about it, I bet you could come up with half even if you don’t know the numbers.

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

It still amazes me sometimes how people will try to twist the words and meanings of some to fit their agenda, especially the 2nd.

elbanditoroso's avatar

Re: @ARE_you_kidding_me made the comment about public education.

Way back in time (about 45 years ago) my high school had each of us 11th graders take a Civics class, which was all about voting, the Constitution, citizenship, and all of that stuff. It was a great course – even 40+ years later I remember the teacher.

And we learned about all of the key institutions that make America what it is today.

I doubt that there are many high schools offering Civics courses any more.

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

It is so easy for a tyrant class to gradually erode the rights of a people who don’t know what their rights are. It’s like taking candy from a baby.

Take the supposedly inalienable right to privacy, for instance, and how it is argued that, if you’re doing nothing wrong in the first place, why would anybody mind laws that could potentially allow the government or even corporations track you on the net—laws which ostensively provide national security and make shopping easier? Or why is the Patriot Act, although enacted in the spirit of national security, found so objectionable by so many people? What’s the big deal? Or why can’t we treat Muslim immigrants differently than Mexicans?

It is extremely important to know your rights and the rights afforded by the constitution of your fellows, how these rights came about and this information is found in the constitution. The guys who wrote this were well-read, had just fought a war for independence, were well acquainted with the modus operandi of spies, counter-revolutionaries, fifth columnists and terrorists. They argued long and hard with other constitutional authores, guys like Hamilton and Hancock, over these things, and won.

These arguments have been revisited time and time again over the years and, with very little tweaking, the liberal arguments for not becoming as tyrannical as our enemies have won out. Even the margin notes found in journals explaining their congressional statements,—like when Jefferson warns that we have more to fear from our own bankers and reactionaries ruining this country than any foreign terrorist—still ring alarmingly true.

I’d like to teach this class. I may be wrong, but I think I could make it interesting, provocative and relevant for young people.

Pandora's avatar

@marinelife Problem is most people won’t look them up and prefer to stay in ignorance and go about repeating their ignorance.

zenvelo's avatar

@elbanditoroso In California, high school seniors take Government class, which covers the Constitution and how government works, from local school boards and town councils, up to the Federal Government.

I don’t think it is necessary to have it all memorized, but it is certainly important to be very familiar with the whole document.

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

I graduated H.S. over 20 years ago and civics was not part of the curriculum then.

Strauss's avatar

I graduated in the late sixties, and not only was civics a required part of the curriculum, there were specific constitution tests for graduation from eighth grade as well as high school.

tinyfaery's avatar

Memorization is unnecessary, but everyone should have a grasp of what the amendments actually say as opposed to how they are interpreted. Most people have a knowledge base formed by the life they lead and the jobs they perform.

Case in point: my sister-in-law is a practicing attorney who thought birds were mammals. Oy.

jerv's avatar

Yes, but I don’t see it happening.

Knowing that the Constitution has any amendments other than the 2nd and 10th puts you above at least half the country. Oddly enough, they generally belong to a political party that loves cutting education, and that gets most of their votes from the least-educated parts of the US.

I went to school in a part of the US that actually admits that it’s part of the US, so I was actually taught all about what I guess some people call “Civics”. They probably call soda “pop” too, those weirdos.

ragingloli's avatar

Whose interpretation?

jerv's avatar

@ragingloli What do you mean “interpretation”? I mean, they were written with a specific set of words in a specific order, and neither those words nor their order have changed since they were written.

ragingloli's avatar

@jerv
For example, some interpret the 1st to mean that freedom of religion only applies to christians.
Or that the part of the 2nd that restricts gun ownership to the confines of a “well regulated militia” can be ignored.

Earthbound_Misfit's avatar

No. I don’t think you have to know the detail of the constitution. As has been pointed out, you can look it up if you need to. What is this detailed knowledge going to achieve?

JLeslie's avatar

I think all Americans should be taught them in school.

Should all American adults be able to recite them from memory? No. If one is mentioned I think we should be able to recall what it pertains to.

Recognizing something from past learning and reciting from memory are two very different things, and most of us can only recite very well those things we work with daily, or used so many times it’s deeply ingrained. I took one government class in Jr. High from what I can remember. I didn’t enjoy it. I’m surprised I know as much as I do about it.

LuckyGuy's avatar

If you get a chance please watch this 48 minute comedy routine by Colin Quinn.

It is entitled Unconstitutional and legitimately reviews the Constitution and the Amendments and presents it in a form that you will remember. Excellent.

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

@ragingloli just what I was taking about. Anti-gun folks don’t seem to want to read: “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Kind of hard to dismiss that away. A militia is no special group of gun toting ninjas either. Periodic training should be part of the permit process, we have been ignoring our obligations here in the states concerning this.

Christians seem to think the first grants them special privilege somehow. I can’t seem to see where that comes from though.

jerv's avatar

@ragingloli My point was simply that you cannot interpret anything without knowing what it is. For instance, most gun nuts know, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”, They couldn’t claim a constitutional right to bear arms if they did not know those words.

In no way, shape, or form does any sort of interpretation or opinion on guns change the fact that the second amendment reads, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”.

You can fight over the definition of “well regulated militia, but “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” is still written “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” no matter how you spin it.

Love guns, hate guns, don’t care about guns, it won’t matter; it will STILL read, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”.

Now, if you can show me a ratified copy of the US Constitution that reads differently then I might change my mind, but until then, I maintain that interpretation has nothing to do with it.

The words are what they are.

filmfann's avatar

These days I would be happy if people had a passing knowledge of what they are, and how to find out exactly what they are.
People often misrepresent the Second Amendment. I watch some of the Presidential candidates, and doubt they could pass a high school civics exam.

ibstubro's avatar

Greatest travesty:

10th Amendment: The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

Explain that, Civics 101?

stanleybmanly's avatar

This illustrates a point about just how important it is that things be worded carefully, including many of the questions that show up here. That opening clause “a well regulated militia… ” is useless in determining what the people responsible for it meant. It’s a big flaw among several in our “holy of holies” and we pay a BIG price for the oversight.

jerv's avatar

@ibstubro It’s a little moot since many of the positions of those who love playing the ”STATES RIGHTS!” card are often in the minority on many things. For instance, maybe what the majority of Cousinfuck, Alabama want is diametrically opposed to what the majority of Americans want. Who has the real power then; the states or the people? If the residents of Alabama want to legalize incest at the state level while the rest of the nation wants it to be illegal in all fifty states, who wins? Are you telling over 350 million people that they can’t criminalize a behavior that society as a whole finds universally repulsive just because the Constitution never said anything about incest?

Ironically, the same ones calling for states rights on things like teaching Creationism or banning abortion seek to trample states rights when it comes to allowing Gay Marriage (or did until it became federal law) or legalizing marijuana. They only want states rights when they disagree with the feds, yet wish to strongarm the feds when even they won’t force cops to bust pot smokers even in states where it’s legal.

If you can explain that in a logical manner without throwing anyone under a bus, then I will come up with a better reply than incredulity and a little derision. Until then, I’m going to wait for proof that it’s a travesty instead of merely a talking point used by people so far to the right that even the Tea Party looks at them a little warily.

flutherother's avatar

I don’t think it is necessary as long as everyone knows they exist and are on record. Presidential candidates however should know a bit more and I’d like to see them answer questions on the constitution live and on air as part of the election process.

jerv's avatar

@flutherother I can see how knowing them by heart might be overkill in this age of instant records searches, but I would expect at least a bullet-point overview knowledge amongst adults.

Where it gets tricky is that memory fades with age/time, so getting that level of knowledge in an adult requires them really getting a good soaking of the knowledge as a child so that when they get old enough to forget every little detail of something they learned 10–90 years prior they still retain enough of that knowledge to qualify as “informed”. Do you remember every little detail of everything you learned in the third grade? I know I’ve forgotten how to write in cursive since I never had to once I hit fourth grade.

So I think that schoolkids should have to memorize the Amendments simply so that when they become adults they at least have enough knowledge to think, “Hey, isn’t that in the Constitution?” and look it up. And with the current state of Civics education, we don’t even have that right now.

Knowing they exist isn’t enough. People should have at least some level of detail even if those details are slightly wrong; for instance, thinking that the 19th Amendment is the one about presidential term limits. If someone half-knows something that they used to know, they will be content knowing that they can just look it up to refresh their memory if it becomes important. But if they don’t know because they were never taught well enough for even minimal proficiency to remain once one reaches adulthood, then they won’t even know where/how to look it up and we start getting into blind faith and trust issues not entirely unlike clergy before literacy was common enough for laypeople to read the Bible for themselves.

I agree wholeheartedly that politicians whose job it is to deal with the Constitution should have a far more extensive knowledge of it than the average man on the street though. Hell, at this point I’d settle if the current crop of GOP candidates were smarter than a fifth grader!

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