Bill Encourages Focus on Nation's Founders

State Sen. Kelli Stargel said her bill would not cost school districts money.


Published: Saturday, February 16, 2013 at 12:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, February 17, 2013 at 3:43 a.m.

LAKELAND | If you don't know of Benjamin Rush, Thomas Mifflin and Nathaniel Gorham, then you might not know as much about the nation's founding fathers as you thought.

That is something state Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, hopes to correct for current school students with her Senate Bill 476 creating American Founders' Month.

The bill places it in September, where the Florida Legislature already has created Constitution Day and Celebration Week.

Courses would be voluntary and would not cost school districts money, Stargel said.

"It is basically just encouraging teachers to add more about the nation's founding during this month," she said "The curricula is already there. Civics education used to be very important in schools, and I think we have lost that through the years.

"The founding of the nation was not just the Revolutionary War and Ben Franklin and John Adams, but there were many others like Ben Rush."

Rush was a delegate from Pennsylvania who signed the Declaration of Independence and attended the Continental Congress. He also was surgeon general of the Continental Army. But he is most noted for getting Jefferson and Adams to reconcile their friendship after both left the presidency.

Mifflin and Gorham alternately served as president of the Continental Congress.

"And there are women, too," Stargel said. "I have always admired Abigail Adams (wife of John Adams), a very smart and strong woman at a time when women didn't have much political power. She had a great deal of influence over her husband. One of her frequent sayings was, ‘Don't forget the women.' "

There are also many events and even history older than the Revolution that explain why the writers of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution did what they did, she said.

"Many of the creators of the Second Amendment (right to bear arms), for example, were from England, where they didn't have that right to defend their homes," Stargel said.

Having American Founders' Month in September, the same time period as Constitution Day and Celebration Week, means teachers already will have teaching plans. "This is not a new mandate, just a new emphasis," she said.

Lakeland City Commissioner Justin Troller, who teaches civics and government at Lakeland High School, said the way the bill is written will be good for teachers and students.

"It is something extra we can do for the kids, and it is not mandated like Constitution Day. There may some who say ,‘We already have too much to do,' but this is something we do during this time period, and I think it fits well into the month," he said.

The House has identical legislation, House Bill 295, by Rep. Michael Bileca, R-Miami.

[ Bill Rufty can be reached at 802-7523 or bill.rufty@theledger.com. ]

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