The Allan P. Kirby, Jr. Center for Constitutional Studies and Citizenship is a project of Hillsdale College. The purpose of the Kirby Center is to teach the Constitution, the debate that brought it to life, and the principles that give it meaning.
As such, the Kirby Center does in Washington, D.C., and throughout the nation, what the College has been doing without fail since its founding in 1844.
Through the study of original source documents from American history and the history of Western thought, the Kirby Center seeks to inspire a generation of men and women who place the Constitution at the heart of their careers and their policies, and whose work is grounded in real knowledge of that document and its ways.
This is a large task. It is a task particularly suited to the purposes and abilities of Hillsdale College. From its founding before the Civil War, it has taught all of its students and also multitudes of its fellow citizens the principles and ideas upon which the Constitution is built and according to which it must operate.
The worth of the Kirby Center project can be discovered both in the example of the Founding Fathers and in the example of those who have sought most effectively to undo their work. Both of them began in learning. Both of them spread their message by teaching. Both of them looked to education, and the kind of statesmanship it inspires, to make their gains long lasting.
The American Founders emphasized an education for citizens. It was one of self-government, about the knowledge of and ability to defend the principles of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
The Progressives, now in ascendance in Washington, emphasized an education for experts. It began with the work of a few academics. Studying German historicism, Woodrow Wilson and other Progressive leaders came to believe that the Declaration of Independence was “obsolete.” Through three generations of teaching, they have built a now-powerful movement whose goals are at odds with the purpose of the Founders.
For this reason, unfamiliarity with the Constitution and its initial claims is now a problem, especially among those who lead our nation. The urgent task is simply to recover knowledge that is lost. Both the Founders and the Progressives advanced propositions that are testable by reason and can be compared with real facts in the world. This is an exciting task that must be undertaken fairly and openly.
Abraham Lincoln called for a “return to the fountain whose waters spring close by the blood of the Revolution.” Hillsdale College was very much enrolled in the cause of Lincoln in his day. It continues in that cause today.
Larry P. Arnn
President, Hillsdale College