We Shouldn’t Force Students to Read the Federalist Papers

A statute of Alexander Hamilton in New York City's Central Park. Hamilton, along with James Madison and others, was one of the authors of The Federalist Papers. Photo via Flickr

Today HB1337, introduced by Rep. Mike Schatz (R-New England), got a hearing in the Senate Education Committee (it passed a floor vote in the House last month on a narrow 47-42 vote).

It’s a simple piece of legislation. It would make the Federalist Papers required reading for North Dakota students.

I get why Schatz introduced the bill. The Federalist Papers are among the most important of our nation’s founding documents. So much so that the courts use them to help interpret the intent of the Constitution. Of course students should learn about them, but do we really need lawmakers mandating that students read them?

I thought Senator Erin Oban (D-Bismarck) made a solid point today when printed out a copy of the Federalist Papers to illustrate just how long a read it is we’re mandating for already busy high school kids:

Aside from the fact that this is adding to the already cluttered list of requirements for graduating (remember that in the 2015 session lawmakers mandated a civics test, too) I don’t think that forcing students to read the Federalist Papers is going to result in a lot of enlightenment.

I’d rather have students read those documents, and appreciate them, because they want to. Not because they’re made to.

If we have good teachers in our state, and we do for the most part, they will inspire the sort of curiosity which leads students to this sort of reading. Parents, siblings, and friends can do the same.

We have little to gain from mandating this sort of instruction, but a lot to gain from producing students beholden of a curiosity which leads them to seek out all kinds of knowledge for themselves.

Besides, I think our lawmakers have better things to do than muck about in curriculum.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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