by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
“Civic knowledge is an indispensable element of what it means to be a good American,” Princeton University professor Robert George maintains.
George’s paternal grandfather was an immigrant from Syria, and his maternal grandfather emigrated to America from southern Italy. His father fought in World War II, first in Normandy and Brittany and then in Germany and Austria. Despite their different life experiences, George says, they were bound together by their “allegiance to the principles of republican democracy as set forth in the Declaration and the Constitution.”
Citizens, however, can give their “allegiance to a set of principles as embodied in a constitutional order” only if they understand “those principles and that order.” George worries that too many younger Americans are “woefully ignorant not only of their national history but also of the principles and institutions of the American constitutional order,” a situation that suggests “a profound failing of civic education at every level.”
George founded the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton to address the problem for college students, “both by providing a superior civic education” and by “offering a model that can be emulated by other colleges and universities.”
Named after the Father of the Constitution, himself a Princeton alum – though the school was then known as the College of New Jersey – the Madison Program promotes the study of “free political institutions and the cultural conditions for their establishment and maintenance.”
The Program’s aims are fourfold: fortifying the undergraduate curriculum in constitutional studies; advancing an intellectually rich understanding of American ideals and institutions; sponsoring a rotating set of visiting fellows each academic year; and promoting scholarly collaborations between undergraduate, graduate, visiting, and postdoctoral fellows.
Undergraduate students from any academic discipline “committed to a spirit of open inquiry and serious intellectual engagement” can apply to the Undergraduate Fellows Forum.