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Civics Education and
Home Schooling

Constitutional History on a CD

Imagine that you are a home-school parent. Your pupil is what would be called a “junior” in a government school. You suddenly realize that although you have worked hard at finding suitable materials for the various topics your pupil has studied so far, he has learned little about “civics.”

You might also recall that when you were a high school junior, there was no course titled “civics.” What little you heard about the subject was in a history class. You dimly remember the county sheriff lecturing to your class about crime and how hard he’s working to subdue it. And wasn’t there something said about your duties as a citizen to vote, to register for the draft, and to pay your taxes on time? You also recall falling asleep in that dry lecture about how laws are made and some other topics that you later realized had little to do with how legislatures function in the real world.

It’s little wonder that you might be frustrated by the prospect of helping your child with civics. Later, we’ll offer suggestions about how this can be done if you want your child to learn something more than what a course in “social science” might impart. You won’t find much useful civics material in home schooling Web sites, catalogs, or reading lists. Of course, we may have missed something worthwhile, but for the most part, the concept of civics is about as static in home schooling Web sites as it is in tax-supported schools. It seems that “civics” as a meaningful course of study is the “dark continent” of the home school world. Again, we will discuss that eventually.

For now, however, here’s an interesting possibility to consider: a lecture on CD about selected constitutional matters that are essential to understand in the early stages of a civics course at home. The speaker on the CD is Bruce Gore, a practicing attorney in Spokane, Washington. Mr. Gore also teaches at a private school in his State. We’ll leave it to Mr. Gore to tell you why he chose the law for a career. It’s a fascinating account and one that is highly relevant to the subject of his CD: Teaching Civics Classically.

No doubt, Mr. Gore would be the first person to tell you that a 45-minute CD will not give you everything you need to know to help your student. And possibly his approach, set firmly as it is in a Christian context, might not interest you. Most fair-minded nonbelievers, though, would agree that, until relatively recently, if one wanted to learn about our Constitution and its origins, some knowledge about the history of Christianity was helpful. If you don’t think so, answer this: Is it only a mere coincidence that the number 12 figured so prominently in legal matters? But that’s another story, and we’ll tell it later, too.

Mr. Gore’s principal points are two, and he entertainingly takes us on a brief tour of Puritan history, Calvin, Hegel, Knox, Nietzsche, and others. In doing so, he explains the background of his argument that the basis of civic knowledge is an understanding of (a) the origin of self-government, and (b) the rule of law. He also helps us understand why he believes that the legal philosophy of Oliver Wendell Holmes contributed to the erosion of these principles and led to the notion that “community standards,” not “metaphysical abstractions” (meaning Divine admonitions), should be the basis of modern jurisprudence. Mr. Gore’s grim first-hand account of a school shooting incident in Moses Lake, Washington, makes the consequences of the Nietzsche-to-Darwin-to-Holmes triple play painfully apparent.

Quite apart from his content, you’ll enjoy hearing Mr. Gore on the CD. This might sound odd to some readers, but you will not understand my observation until you hear the CD: The speaker’s voice reminds one of Jack Benny, of blessed memory. We mean this in the most complimentary way possible. Jack Benny occasionally spoke extemporaneously on the radio about subjects outside his usual bailiwick of wonderful humor. He had a fine speaking voice, an engaging manner, and a quick mind. It is in this sense that we compare Mr. Gore’s speaking to the late comedian. Likewise, if you enjoy passion in lectures, you will be pleased with “Teaching Civics Classically.” Mr. Gore pulls no punches. He no doubt sees himself, as do other Christian educators, waging war. If, as a home school parent, your mission is understanding “how the great heritage of law is connected to God,” this CD is a platform for future reading and thinking about civics in a Christian context. Check Mr. Gore’s site ( for “Teaching Civics Classically” and other titles.

May 1, 2008

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