Del. Ken Plum: We the People

Del. Ken Plum/File photoIn Virginia, as in states throughout the South and the Midwest, there is a continuing stream of legislation that attempts to place the power of the states over that of the federal government.

Most recently, the passage of the Affordable Care Act resulted in a torrent of bills attempting to stop implementation of the federal law. Virginia has a not-so-proud history in this regard. From asserting states’ rights as a justification for being able to own slaves to “Massive Resistance” to prevent the racial desegregation of the schools, Virginia has too often been a leader in arguing against history and asserting a right to interpose itself between the federal government and the people.

Recently I had the pleasure of discussing with a middle school class the meaning of “We the People.” I could not have been more impressed with their knowledge of history and constitutional law! Only later did I learn that this group of scholars at Rachel Carson Middle School in Fairfax County had won the middle school championship in a “We the People” competition by besting eight other teams from around the country.

The competition is part of the national We the People’s: The Citizen and the Constitution Programsponsored by the Center for Civic Education to promote civic competence and responsibility among middle and high school students.

The students at Rachel Carson were able to explain why the Articles of Confederation that had made the state preeminent had failed and to discuss the expansion of civic participation during our history with the passage of the 13th, 14th, 15th, and 19th amendments to the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. They had a clearer grasp of our history than I have found in some debate in the state legislature.

Congratulations to teacher Cynthia Burgett and the students on their wonderful achievement. I could recognize many civic leaders in the class who I know will be contributors to our communities and to our government in the future. They will make “We the People” a reality.

Last week, I also participated in the 40th anniversary of the Volunteer Learning Program in Fairfax County Public Schools. I was part of starting the program that continues with much success to place volunteer tutors from the community with volunteer learners who want to complete their education.

The ability to serve diverse learners with different goals at locations throughout the County at times of their availability has been possible only through utilizing an experienced teacher to train volunteers who work with students one on one. For some students the goal is to learn to read and write; for others it is to learn English. Some students have employment goals.

Congratulations and thank you for all those who work to expand educational opportunities in our community. More information is available if you want to be a tutor or need assistance the program provides.

We the people can have a better government when we know our history. We can have a better community when we contribute to the advancement of others.

Ken Plum represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. His opinions do not reflect Reston Now’s.

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