Visions of Youth (3/26/09)

I plead the fifth …

March 26, 2009

By Kayla Purvis

On March 11, I was told that I would be taking a sample entrance exam.

For the United States.

Hmm, say what? I thought for sure I would fail. After all, despite loving politics, I hardly knew anything about how the government is run.

The test is not hard at all. Simple questions, no trick answers: “What do we call the first 10 amendments to the Constitution?” Or, “Which is NOT a right or freedom from the First Amendment?” Out of 32 questions, I was wrong on four; I passed the test. But I couldn’t help but wonder how many people — U.S. citizens — wouldn’t pass.

My sophomore English/Social Studies class has just entered a unit on government, focused on rights. We’ve been learning about the amendments, Constitution, Declaration of Independence and things alike. Just a few days ago, we picked three controversial topics that interest us and had an all-day field trip to St. Michael’s College to kick off the sophomores’ latest challenge: Trial Search.

Trial Search is a process in which each CVU sophomore spends every day of their week (no joke) researching, studying, interviewing or writing about their topic. My topic is freedom of speech in schools, so until further notice I will be investigating whether or not students truly have freedom of speech in school.

Other topics include gay marriage, a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion, privacy in home, limits on rights to bear arms, euthanasia and searches in schools.

The importance of this? To teach us about our rights. Many Americans know more about daily television ads than their own rights; I’m one of them. But I’m learning my rights and learning about how to use them.

Do you know how old a person has to be in order to be a member of the House of Representatives? How about the length of a Senator’s term? Or the three qualifications needed to be elected president? More importantly and applicably, what five essential freedoms does the First Amendment guarantee to Americans? Who chooses the president if neither candidate gets the majority of electoral votes?

Things like this are things that we should know. People had to fight for and defend our freedom many times for it to remain intact today. Our essential freedoms and natural rights were highly valued by the Founding Fathers and others who believed in this country. What good are we doing by ignoring them?

The writer Evelyn Beatrice Hall, while summarizing the beliefs of French philosopher Votaire, penned the phrase, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

Hall and, by extension, Voltaire, imply how necessary it is for people to know, use, and recognize their rights. Our entire country was based on the idea that citizens should have the power. Though we, as citizens of the United States, technically don’t hold all the power, we still have enough to make a dent in how this country is run. If we know our rights, we will be more able to impact our country for the good.

Williston resident Kayla Purvis is a sophomore at Champlain Valley Union High School.