Originally published in the San Antonio Express-News, June 27, 2004
by Susan Ives
PHILADELPHIA — The first time my car ever went through a security search on American soil was in a parking garage in Philadelphia.
A polite young man in a blue blazer stopped our car. “Your last name?” he asked. He wrote it down and copied the license plate number of the car onto his clipboard.
He had a large round mirror attached to a long pole, which he conscientiously poked under the front, the rear, the sides. Looking for bombs. Nothing. He gestured for us to enter.
We could have had Osama bin Laden stashed in the trunk, and the nice young man would have waved us through. Have a nice day.
Welcome to the National Constitution Center.
“Maybe it’s part of the museum experience,” I suggested. “Start us thinking about unreasonable search and seizure.”
“That wasn’t unreasonable,” my husband said, reasonably.
“No,” I agreed,” it’s not unreasonable. Just stupid.”
I had an attitude, and we hadn’t even yet paid admission.
The National Constitution Center opened on July Fourth last year. Authorized by Congress but privately funded, it has 160,000 square feet with more than 100 multimedia exhibits about the Constitution. Just the Constitution.
We were the only adults there without kids. I had forgotten that the schools up north don’t let out until the middle of June.
Over the loudspeaker: “Will the girls from the Torah school meet their teacher at the entrance to the theater.”
A group of kids in yellow T-shirts, the elementary school graduation class of P.S. something in New York.
A Girl Scout troop. “We’re going to Washington tomorrow,” the exhausted leader confided.
I loved every inch of it.
Kids lined up to take the oath of office for president, interacting with a computer-generated Supreme Court justice. A girl left the podium flexing an arm muscle. “I’m the first woman president!” she bragged.
At a table, kids donned the robes of Supreme Court justices, sat at computer terminals and decided historic cases. Others were voting for their favorite president, in a real voting booth.
Along one wall were displays featuring current issues. Should “under God” be taken out of the Pledge of Allegiance? Should people not born in the United States be allowed to become president?
A couple of dozen kids were laboring over their decisions. Second-graders, their teacher said.
“Do they understand what they’re voting for?” I asked.
Some do, some don’t, she said, but at least they’re learning they have the right and duty to express their opinions.
I wanted her to be my teacher.
As you leave, you go through the signers’ hall, filled with life-size bronze statues. James Madison was popular: He was short, kid-sized.
There’s a big book where you can sign the Constitution. The girl in front of me took up most of the page. She told me, “That’s my John Hancock.” You can find my name there, too, on page 10,096.
These kids were fully engaged. They were learning how government works. They were learning they have responsibilities as well as rights. They were learning they were part of “we, the people.”
I would love to see a Constitution Center in every state. A place where we could excite our children about liberty and law. A place where adults could discuss the issues of the day. A place where we could celebrate “we, the people.”
As we left the parking garage, our path was blocked by Mr. Blue Blazer doing his mirror routine on an entering car. The mirror fell off the pole, rolled onto Race Street. He waved the car through.