The Mother of Inventions

In her introduction to Frankenstein, novelist Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley wrote, “Invention, it must be humbly admitted, does not consist in creating out of void but out of chaos.”

Ideas frequently flow from the wellspring of necessity, but their raw materials – the substance – can only come from someplace else. Those do not abruptly emerge from thin air. Today’s world increasingly resembles a chaotic place both domestically and abroad. Just turn on the news for tales about the latest act of terrorism or gun-related violence. Then there’s talk of political parties gone astray and barbs hurled from candidates’ camps. It’s an age of uncertainty.

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Image Credit: National Hellenic Museum

During these times of unease, there are ways to stay informed with news events while still holding true to what remains unchanged. The lessons of what came before reveal that today’s uncertainties will be tomorrow’s truths. Whatever comes, the strength of our ideals will lead us through. That’s our national story, isn’t it?  The American Founders invented a new system of government, incorporating best practices across history and civilizations, bringing pieces of ideas together into one – e pluribus unum. To unite us, they deliberately split the ruling powers apart.

Our system of checks and balances is robust. It has never failed us completely, but we have fine-tuned its reach over the years. That happened when Congress enacted the War Powers Resolution to limit presidential authority as well as the Judicial Conduct and Disability Act of 1980. The judicial power asserts authority in countless cases, when the United States Supreme Court nullifies legislation or rules executive actions to be unconstitutional. Executive law enforcement authorities also continue to ensure that legislators and even judges are not above the law. This system has endured time’s test and reinforces the need to understand it.

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Image Credit: J.B. Bird

The Founders forged a new path for human progress. However imperfect, they set us off onto a new course. They were well read and knew the power of collaboration and compromise. Only those circumstances allowed them to invent. To find solutions for the world in which we live – our towns, states and country – we must talk to each other and bridge boundaries. We find peace by harnessing the human spirit of innovation. Seeking the right answers drives us forward.

This illustrates how social studies education is the key arena where young people learn skills to navigate through the many civic and moral dilemmas which they’ll inevitably confront in their lives. As President Franklin Roosevelt noted,

“It is the function of education, the function of all the great institutions of learning in the United States, to provide continuity for our national life – to transmit to youth the best of our culture that has been tested in the fire of history.”

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Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Progress means that there cannot be a void; it demands substance. New ideas inherently require something to be there in the first place. That’s why it’s a big problem when many Americans don’t know the three branches of government or understand the Bill of Rights. There, we find a void of nothingness which inherently limits our ability to invent.

Chaos is not an occasion for panic. It’s just another opportunity, a puzzle waiting to be solved. That’s the overarching lesson for all of us in these tumultuous times where solutions more often reside in our nation’s schools than in the daily news. President Roosevelt spoke about that, too: “We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future.”


Submitted by Jason Bowns

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