Workbook Rationality: The Montana Legislature and the NCCS

I’m up at the Capitol listening to the presentation about the Constitution from the conservative National Center for Constitutional Studies. At this point, I’d say the event is best described as the unholy (albeit entirely heterosexual) marriage of the worst high school social studies lecture of all time and  a Glenn Beck television special without the tears or whiteboard.

One early moment in the event really stood out was when the speaker defined natural law for the crowd of sixty or so.  According to him, natural law is best understood as “learning something and it feels like you’ve always known it.”

That moment, combined with the head nods in the crowd and the fact that Montana legislators were actually filling out blanks in a workbook provided by the speaker as the speaker told them the right words to write down, made me realize just how frustratingly the TEA Party and its ilk have hijacked the values of the Enlightenment that brought us the Declaration. Above all, the Enlightenment was about the application of systematic doubt to discover truth, not blind adherence to the past and its traditions.

The values of the Enlightenment were certainly not about knowing about what “you’ve always known.” That kind of thinking props up monarchies and despots. Jefferson and the boys believed in exploration, scientific testing, debate, and above all, REASON. Somehow, I have a hard time imagining that the Founding Fathers would have been impressed by a lecture punctuated by a speaker telling lawmakers the correct words to write into a provided workbook, without discussion or debate.

I’ll offer more specific insights about the event following its conclusion, but couldn’t leave out one discussion about gun rights. While the speaker indicated that he prefers not “to speak about specific issues,” perhaps chuckling about Arizona’s lax gun laws might not have been the best choice right now.

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About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba has been writing about Montana politics since 2005 and teaching high school English since 2000. He's a former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.
His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.
In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.


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