Opinion Extra

Op-ed: Winthrop University requires students to learn about U.S. Constitution

Growing up in a household with an American history teacher, my family may have talked about our country’s workings and current events more than most.

My father was a high school teacher for 42 years, primarily at Bridgewater Raritan High School in New Jersey. His favorite class to teach was one on American Government. He was passionate to explain how our country was formed and encouraged each generation to carry on our rich traditions by becoming informed and engaged citizens.

My father passed away two years ago and I am proud to be part of continuing to support his passion by working at a public university that puts a great deal of emphasis on teaching our students to appreciate our democratic form of government.

Daniel Mahony

In fact, Winthrop University observes every Constitution Day on Sept. 17 with a special event that helps remind our students about the signing of the U.S. Constitution on Sept. 17, 1787, by 39 American leaders at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia.

At Winthrop, we make sure students understand this historical document with a required Constitution Competency. Students take a three-credit-hour course that meets a number of state standards, including having students demonstrate competency in their understanding of the principles and applications of the U.S. Constitution and related topics.

The Constitution Competency is defined by the South Carolina legislature as understanding “the essentials of the United States Constitution, the Declaration of Independence and the Federalist Papers, including the study of American institutions and ideals” (derived from Section 59-29-120 of the South Carolina Code).

Students read, write, and discuss these documents and how they continue to impact our lives. We want to make sure students understand American institutions and ideals and appreciate how their roles in school, work and community are affected by the structures and ideas emanating from these core documents. This knowledge also will help students understand their civic responsibilities and recognize problems and issues that confront citizens.

In his high school classes, my father sought to show his students that the Constitution remains an important, guiding document. As much as he loved history, I think he enjoyed even more discussing current events where this historical document remains relevant.

This fall, between expected visits by presidential candidates and Constitution discussions, Winthrop again will prepare our students and the communities that we serve for the importance of electing a president in 2020. With many candidates vying for the Democratic Party’s nomination for president, the Palmetto State will continue to be visited often until the Feb. 29 primary.

Also, across the border, Charlotte, North Carolina, will host the Republican National Convention next summer, giving our students a chance to witness an incumbent president seek a second term. Winthrop’s Department of Political Science will offer a spring course about political conventions, and as part of the course, students will then attend the convention in August.

Due to South Carolina’s role as a key state in presidential voting and our popularity as a host site for candidate visits, we have found in the past that the road to the White House goes through Winthrop.

Having a Constitution Competency requirement helps ensure our students see where we’ve been as a nation and where we are headed.

Dr. Daniel F. Mahony became Winthrop University’s 11th president on July 1, 2015.