A group of Idaho students completed four days of intensive learning at the state Capitol Friday, as the Texas-based Patriot Academy concluded what supporters hope is an annual summer education event.
“This has been great,” said Elizabeth Dixon, an undergraduate music major at Brigham Young University in Rexburg. “This has taught me the legislative process and the principles of American government,” she told IdahoReporter.com. “I’ve always thought of law and legislation as being very inaccessible, but this wasn’t as intimidating as I thought it would be. I’ve been learning things here about the Constitution and about our country’s founders that I never learned in school.”
Dixon was one of 42 students from across Idaho who enrolled in the Patriot Academy’s debut in the Gem State. Founded in 2001 by former Texas state legislator Rick Green, the Patriot Academy gathers students between the ages of 14 and 25 to study the mechanics of American government, the basic principles of the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
Instruction for the academy’s Idaho seminar was provided by a combination of current and former Idaho state legislators, along with some of the academy’s staffers from Texas.
This year marks the first time that the Patriot Academy has ventured outside of Texas where the organization was founded. Along with the seminar conducted in Boise, the organization has also convened instruction this year in Arizona and Florida. While students who enrolled in the Boise-based seminar paid tuition, the bulk of the funding for the project was provided by the Idaho-based, nonprofit Ralph Smeed Private Memorial Foundation.
“We think it’s important to inform young people about the fundamental principles that our Founding Fathers established,” commented Maurice Clements, chairman of the board for the Smeed Foundation. “There is very little effort made in our government schools to teach these important ideals and we’re trying to supplement the education that students are already receiving.”
Theron Nelsen, a trustee with the Smeed Foundation, agrees with Clements. “As a former school teacher, I’ve seen things change over the years,” Nelsen told IdahoReporter.com. “We’ve gotten to a point where students learn very little about the American founders and the Constitution. Over the years I became acquainted with Rick Green and with Ralph Smeed. Ralph and I began talking about the need to educate about the Founding Fathers and what the Constitution is all about. The Patriot Academy provides an opportunity to get students grounded in the teachings of the Founding Fathers and the Constitution, and that’s how the Smeed Foundation came to support bringing the academy to Idaho.”
“We have a tremendous group of students here,” said Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, an instructor at the seminar. Among Barbieri’s duties at the seminar was teaching about the classic philosophical work, “The Road to Serfdom,” by Austrian economist and philosopher Friedrich von Hayek. “I think many of the students here are learning of Hayek’s work for the first time, and this is very exciting. They’re receiving instruction not only in the ways in which government works, but they’re also being grounded in a governing philosophy and ideology,” said Barbieri.
Along with a philosophical education, students in the Patriot Academy received hands-on training as they served in “mock” legislative bodies where they drafted, debated and voted on legislation.
Dominic Gelsomino, a Boise State University undergraduate student who is majoring in political science and business, served in the academy’s House of Representatives. He noted that “this experience has been amazing. I now see the foundation for why the founders structured our government the way they did. Growing up in California I was taught about what the federal government wants for America. Here at the academy I’ve learned that the founders intended for the states to retain their individual powers, and ultimately for we the people, the citizenry, to have the power.”
“The students here have been tremendous,” Elizabeth Allan-Hodge, a former Idaho state Legislator, told Idaho Reporter.com. Allan-Hodge serves both as the Idaho coordinator for the Patriot Academy and as a trustee of the Smeed Foundation. “When we first decided we were going to do this we started traveling around the state introducing the academy to parents and students. Initially we had nine students, and then 20, and, finally, 42 students. These young people are learning the principles of liberty that they simply don’t get in school.”
For more information about this program, persons are asked to call or email former State Representative Elizabeth Allan-Hodge at: 208-869-1709 or [email protected]