My ninth-grade civics teacher warned us about amendments like this one


Today marks one month of pretty good reasons to oppose the Minnesota Marriage Amendment.

Admittedly, a few of the posts so far have been more reason-ish rather than actual reasons. The tags in the right column offer a pretty good summary of the themes that have surfaced. (Cut me a break: In real life I teach college composition.)

I’ve added a tag today, “Mrs. Ford’s Civics Class.”

Mrs. Ford, our snobby ninth-grade civics teacher, was well over 100 years old. She was a Daughter of the American Revolution, and for all we knew, she lived through it. We learned about the separation of powers from Mrs. Ford–in this case, that only WASPs deserve any power. She belonged to a country club that excluded Jews and “Nigroes,” and she lived in a neighborhood zoned for racial and religious exclusion.

Still, one way or the other, Mrs. Ford taught me a few things about government, albeit with a Nixonian law-and-order bark. For one thing, we learned about “simple majorities” and “super majorities” and how difficult it is to amend the federal constitution. After all, conservatives like Mrs. Ford don’t tamper with history.

Which leads to a letter to the editor I saw in the StarTribune last week by Steve Cook of Hutchinson. Mr. Cook commented that Minnesota is one of 10 states that require only a simple majority of legislators to put a potential constitutional amendment before the voters.

Mr. Cook alluded to the fact that at the federal level two thirds of each house of Congress must approve an amendment to the U.S. Constitution, followed by three quarters of the states.

The Marriage Amendment squeaked by last May onto next fall’s ballot by a 70-62 vote in the Minnesota House of Representatives.

As a constitutional scholar (after all, I got a B in Mrs. Ford’s class), that doesn’t seem right to me. There are good reasons it’s so difficult to amend the U.S. Constitution. And they’re the same reasons to vote no on the Minnesota Marriage Amendment.

Footnote: Having landed a short-term contract a long time ago to help edit “Profiles in Learning,” I know civics is assessed in the state graduation standards. I also know that mediating competing interests in the Minnesota social studies curriculum is only a little less difficult than ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Anyway, 40 years or so after my Mrs. Ford year, last week I asked my daughter, who’s 24, if she ever took a civics class in her Minneapolis high school. My daughter told me Everything She Learned About Civics can be found in this video. If you were out behind the school smoking cigarettes the day they went over this stuff, I invite you to watch (especially if you have to take the state standards assessment).

Still, I want to publicly thank Mrs. Ford for helping me think this through. She’s about 140 years old now, and I hope she reads this. She taught me about the importance of good citizenship, and through her example, how discrimination is just plain un-American.