Monday, July 02, 2007

Declaration of Independence plaque miscredits the author

Students will return to schools this fall here in Arizona and find something new. Last year, Republicans in the legislature pushed through a flag bill-- a bill requiring that classrooms in both grade schools and colleges and universities all display an American flag, together with a copy of the Declaration of Independence and a copy of the Bill of Rights. Only they didn't provide the necessary funding for it, so the schools had to dig into their already thin supply budgets to pay for the new decor.

Now, I grew up with a flag on the wall in the classroom, and don't have a problem with it. I do have a problem with the idiots who believe that the way to make people better citizens is to simply force the flag in their face as often as possible, mandating it and then not being willing to pony up the money for it.

However, I do believe that whatever is displayed in the classroom should be factually accurate.

Let's consider what the students may learn from this, if they get bored and start looking at the flag and reading the documents. They may learn that the flag has thirteen stripes and fifty stars. They may learn that the police have to get a warrant, or that they are protected against being compelled to incriminate themselves. They may learn that the colonists thought that being compelled to quarter British soldiers was a justification for rebellion. And they may learn that the Declaration of Independence was written by John Hancock.


At least that is the reaction that I had today when I went back to work at the community college where I work and found the Declaration on the wall. Down at the bottom, after the last word of the Declaration, it clearly said:

-- John Hancock

Now John Hancock was indeed a patriot, and he was at Independence Hall when the Declaration was drafted. His name is often associated with the Declaration because he signed it first, and being proud of his calligraphy, he signed his name large. But after that, the other fifty-five men who took part also signed their names. He is no more the author of the Declaration of Independence than any of them. They should put all 56 names, if they put one. But if they insist that there is only room for one, then it still should not be Hancock, it would properly be Thomas Jefferson, by whose hand the document was in fact written.

For a school to put something up on its wall which is wrong may be a mistake, or they may not notice it until they've bought the plaques (and you can be sure if the legislature wouldn't appropriate funds to pay for this the first time, they certainly would not appropriate funds to fix the problem.) I still would suggest that it should come down, because learning wrong facts is actually harmful to students. But for the company that makes the plaque, presumably one of their specialties, to make such a basic and stupid mistake is inexcusable. The best explanation I can come up with is that since schools are having to pay for this themselves, they are finding the cheapest supplier. And cheap is usually cheap for a reason.

But that's our fine educational system, courtesy of our skinflint legislature for you.

So next time you hear another dismal statistic about how Arizona school kids are doing, keep in mind that the legislature is helping them get there, in this case directly helping them get there.


shrimplate said...

Our glorious Lege, who have only the great representative servants of Texas with whom to compete for the lowest rung on the ladder of statesmanship, (or indeed the ladder of life itself) may yet provide funding.

Expect cheap southeast-asian knock-off prints of these great documentsto adorn our classrooms, with perhaps the signature of Ho Chi Min added to the cluttered roster at the bottom of the Declaration.

Heck, it isn't as if we'd pay Americans to make such things when we can get foriegn sweatshops to produce these dirt cheap.

Indy Voter said...

Wow. What a mind-numbing goof.

I doubt it was the Republican legislature which authorized putting Hancock's name on the Declaration of Independence as if he were the author, though. Legislation is rarely that specific. Doubtless this error springs from someone tasked with implementing the legislature's wishes.

And for anyone who doesn't remember who wrote the Declaration of Independence: Thomas Jefferson was the author.

Eli Blake said...

As I noted in the post, Indy.

After the delegates got done discussing what they wanted the document to say, Jefferson wrote it down with their advice and consent, and then they voted unanimously to accept it, and then they all signed it.

Karen said...

Hope you're having an awesome 4th!