Education is fundamental in preparing a citizenry to live under a free constitutional republic, said Kyle Harper, founding director of the Institute for the American Constitutional Heritage at the University of Oklahoma. Harper is also the senior vice provost at OU as well as an associate professor of Classics and Letters.
A sense of identity by belonging to a tradition is an ingredient in being part of a free republic, he said while speaking to the Edmond Republican Women’s Club on Monday. An educated citizen must be aware, alert and intelligent to care about public affairs, he said.
“For the Romans it is part of their Republican tradition,” Harper said. “For us as Americans it is part of our American heritage, being able to understand the creation, the uniqueness of the American founding; to understand the legacy of the freedom that’s been preserved by the Civil War, the two World Wars and beyond.”
The ideal of creating citizens for the republic is deeply imbedded in the history of America’s higher education, Harper said. Born and reared in Edmond, Harper is a graduate of Edmond Memorial High School. Harper earned his bachelor’s degree in Letters at OU. He later earned both his master’s degree and doctorate in history from Harvard University.
The Institute for the American Constitutional Heritage is a new program training students to understand the foundations of American constitutional rule, Harper said. Included are constitutional studies of classic literature, Greek and Roman origins of constitutionalism.
“It includes courses in political philosophy, the belief that reading John Locke and other political philosophers the founding father’s read is fundamental in understanding the way they created the constitution,” Harper said.
Course work also includes courses in the history of the country’s founding as well as modern constitutional history relating to the Civil War and the civil rights movement. There are opportunities for debate. Religion and the constitution, law and justice are some of the 25 courses taught.
“I think if any student took 15 hours in our curriculum and got a major or minor in Constitutional Studies, they would be extraordinarily prepared for citizenship,” Harper said.
In early March, IACH will offer a teach-in on the Civil War. Thousands of people will visit the campus on a day yet-to-be scheduled to hear six scholarly lectures on American heritage.
“I just think it is fundamental that everyone have this background,” said Billye Peterson, club member.
Ferlin Kearns asked Harper his opinion of the federal program, Common Core, when trying to prepare children for citizenship. Kearns said Common Core involves asking corporate leaders what is needed to gear children’s education.
Science, engineering, technology and math, the STEM disciplines, are fundamental to education, Harper said. More engineers are needed in Oklahoma, he added. The U.S. needs to lead the world in the 21st century information age, Harper said.
Higher education in the U.S. remains the best in the world, Harper continued. However, he said common education ranks 15-20 in most measurements.
Education in the U.S. has primarily centered on STEM disciplines for the past 10 to 15 years, while liberal arts, the type of education necessary for a free society including history, government, humanities, arts and literature are in jeopardy of being further de-prioritized, he said.
Liberal arts is in danger of being further deprioritized if federal funding for common education is one-sided for STEM, Harper said. Technical and liberal arts fundamentally go together in education, Harper said.
TO LEARN MORE about free online civic education by the Institute for the American Constitutional Heritage, visit freedom.ou.edu.