Academy Award-winning actor Richard Dreyfuss told Breitbart News’s Michael P. Leahy that America needs to dramatically improve its civic education for students in public schools so they have a belief system rooted in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
The Constitution is “the greatest political revolution in the history of civilization,” Dreyfuss said, and without a clear public understanding of it, our country will lack a common bond and be unprepared to respond to challenges, particularly the terrorism perpetrated against us by ISIS.
“They’re going to come here and they’re going to kill children… we’d better have a belief system in place, or else we’re going to flee as if we were Iraqis,” Dreyfuss added.
“Before the Constitution we had to whisper all discussion of politics, or else they’d hang us. That is the achievement of the American Constitution and the Bill of Rights,” Dreyfuss, told Leahy, who was guest hosting the Dan Mandis Show on Nashville’s WWTN radio station.
Dreyfuss is the founder of the Dreyfuss Civics Initiative because he is an ardent supporter of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights:
“That is a reminder that in history 250 years is a blink and we think the world is always like this, but it is as vulnerable as it could be to any organization like ISIS that has a belief system that people could rely on,” he added.
Earlier, Dreyfuss explained why belief systems were so critical and how a country that lacks a belief system will fail. “When we trained the Iraqi army we spent $2 trillion training them to an expertise in weaponry and military tactics. And we gave them the best weaponry we had. And they fled and disappeared at the first echo of the first shot. The reason that happened is we neglected to teach them any belief system that they could rely on after the shots started to get fired,” Dreyfuss said.
“You have to have a belief in something,” he asserted.
“People have a right to know who they are and why they are who they are. We neglected to teach that to the Iraqi Army. So, no wonder they fled and half of them went to ISIS,” Dreyfuss noted.
Dreyfuss elaborated on the significance of the American Constitution:
Up until the invention of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, the things that 98 percent of the world had to agree to was being lashed, having their fingers chopped off or being hung at any mention of political discussion or dissent. And that was the truth of the world for over 6,000 years until we said ‘If you can get here, if you can manage to make that journey, you get all of that for free: you get freedom of worship, freedom of thought, freedom of expression, freedom of mind, freedom of opportunity. You don’t have to ask anyone’s permission to move, and if you want to start an endeavor and it works, you get the reward. If you want to start an endeavor and it doesn’t work, you get to start another one.
Dreyfuss also explained why he started the Dreyfuss Initiative in 2008.
“The Dreyfuss Initiative was born the moment I realized that civics had been removed from the curriculum for all grades below High School graduation. Along with sewing and literature, but the most important was civics which teaches you not only how to love your country, but [also] why,” he said.
“I remembered this quote from de Tocqueville who said ‘America is the only country in the history of the world that is connected only by ideas. They have no common caste, no common class, no common religion, no common ancestral worship, and no common crime.’ They are bound only by the ideas of the enlightenment and if those ideas are not taught to each generation, we are not bound [together], and we aren’t,” Dreyfuss added.
Dreyfuss elaborated on what he called “the imperfect miracle” of the Constitution. “We knew we had what I call the imperfect miracle of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.The imperfections are things like, we blinked when the southerners said we’ll leave if you don’t approve of slavery. There were various ways [such as] the electoral college that kept the elite in power. But, it was such a major step towards equity and towards fairness that you could easily forgive those errors and know that the process of getting rid of them was already in place,” Dreyfuss told Leahy.
Dreyfuss also explained the mission of the Dreyfuss Initiative:
It describes a curriculum for the grades below High School graduation. A curriculum which begins in kindergarten and ends in the 11th grade. It starts with mythology and glory tales as we do now except all of the tales would have an Enlightenment ending. The heroes of my stories are all those people who stood up for the freedom of the mind. Then by the fourth grade when kids are mature enough to understand the use of metaphor, then you can start teaching discussion, debate, dissent, clarity of thought, clarity of expression. Those things are not only taught in that one class but are threaded throughout the curriculum of all classes. So you know why you go to sewing after you go to history and you learn capitalism in sewing. And you learn to discuss it.
Dreyfuss closed the interview with a dramatic call to action. Parents, he argued, should become actively involved in insisting their children’s schools change their curriculum to emphasize the Constitution and civics.
“When people from the right and people from the left stand up and give me a standing ovation at a speech, I say to them ‘ What are you going to do now? Now that you’ve applauded me, what are you going to do? Are you going to get up off your ass and do something like change the curriculum of your kid’s school?’ “ Dreyfuss asked rhetorically.
“If you ain’t going to do it,” Dreyfuss said, “you ain’t doing any good by giving me a standing ovation.”
Dreyfuss, long associated with liberal causes, raised eyebrows on the left in a 2013 CNN interview with Piers Morgan, when he opposed gun control and called the National Rifle Association and its members “heroes” for training gun owners on the proper use of guns. “I don’t think the NRA is a villain. I think we should turn this over to the people who are expert at this and the original mandate of the NRA was to train responsible gun ownership and the NRA should handle it. They should train excellence in gun ownership.”
Dreyfuss’s comments left the ardently pro-gun control Morgan, a former CNN host, speechless.
In 2015, Dreyfuss provoked considerable comment on the right when he called for a re-write of the 2nd amendment: Dreyfuss told the New York Observer:
The Second Amendment. It’s the only Amendment that’s obscurely written, and I would have made it clear. I would have said, “This is for establishing militia and everyone has the right to participate in that militia, and you can have a gun if you participate in that militia.”
Dreyfuss will star as convicted financial con man Bernie Madoff, whose $50 billion Ponzi Scheme decimated the life savings of many high net worth investors, in a four hour ABC mini-series set to air in February. “Don’t forget something. I’ve never made a film, ever, that’s against my own ethics and principle. Ever,” Dreyfuss told Leahy.
“And Bernie Madoff fits right into that. So that while you’re watching it, remember that I put that in my collection of work because it has something incredibly important to say,” Dreyfuss added.
Here’s a partial transcript of that interview:
Leahy: You and I were talking earlier … about the importance of understanding why you fight, why we are a country. We talked a little bit about the importance of Frank Capra, the great director who did It’s a Wonderful Life, and many, many others. He did a series of films called Why We Fight for soldiers in World War II. Tell us about how that kind of understanding of the belief of what the country is about….Do you think we need a modern rendition of Why We Fight and is that .. a project that if someone were to approach you about perhaps even narrating it that you might have an interest in.
Dreyfuss: Absolutely I have a total interest in it, and I don’t just want to narrate it, I want to design it, write it and produce it.
Leahy: If you designed it, what would be the main theme of that?
Dreyfuss: The main theme would be that people don’t realize that any political discussion that you and I may be having right now on the radio would have 250 years ago been accomplished in a whisper.
Leahy: A lot of commentators, Tom Brokaw, for instance, commented on MSNBC the other day that here in the US the country has to be all in in this fight against the ISIS terrorists, and really, with only one percent of the population engaged in combat over there [in the Middle East], there’s not quite the level of national commitment we need to win. Would you agree with Brokaw on that, Richard?
Dreyfuss: Well, I think I agree that we all have to, in a consensus, have to agree to the need for such a system. The fact that one percent goes over to do the actual fighting is not irrelevant, but it misstates the argument, because only one percent fought World War II.
The fact is, we have to support the fighters with a belief system. We have to let them know that we have a belief in the rights of the individual, the rights against the oppressive possibilities of their own government, that they have the right to worship God as they please no matter what, and … all the other freedoms that come with it.
And what we have to do is educate the entire population in an intense, realistic background education to give them the knowledge so that when one out of a thousand are picked to go fight, that they’re coming from a re-enforced, revived, intellectual resource pool called ‘the student body’ and they know that they know what they’re fighting for.
Leahy: You have been involved, throughout much of your career, very prominently associated with liberal causes. I suppose you would call yourself politically more on the liberal spectrum. Would that be a fair characterization?
Dreyfuss: I think that those characterizations are about as out-of-date as all of the political parties of the 19th century. There was the Know Nothing Party, and there were the Whigs and what the hell does that mean?
So, I will tell you now that the word liberal is misapplied and the word conservative is misapplied and we’d better start with something else or else we’re going to be fighting an irrelevant Civil War.
Leahy: It sounds to me what that something else is to you is the Constitution.
Dreyfuss: I would say the Constitution and the Bill of Rights….is an achievement beyond anyone’s understanding. It has actually accomplished more than anyone actually set out to accomplish. When you have the courage to sit down and write out what you believe and what you want for your nation and say, “This is what we hope to be, this is what we want to be when we grow up.”
“And that’s the Bill of Rights. The Bill of Rights is not a done deal. It’s a goal. And when we have all of those freedoms in our head, then we will have grown up, and no country in history… no nation ever took those thoughts and put them up on a wall so that every one could see it.
Leahy: Why are so few people in Hollywood ardently supportive of the Constitution in the way you are? That baffles a lot of folks and your …heartfelt support for the Constitution is extraordinarily encouraging.
Dreyfuss: People are angry with Hollywood because they’re not expressing something that no one’s ever asked them to express, which is a worship or love or devotion to the Constitution. What they say is ‘you’re a bunch of liberals.’ And liberalism has nothing to do with it, except classical liberalism which is another story completely. Conservatives always say in Hollywood, that they don’t work, that they’re not allowed to work as much as liberals are and it’s all a bunch of hooey. Conservatives are always working. As a matter of fact they work probably more steadily than anybody else in Hollywood, and liberals don’t know what liberalism is anymore, and so they’re hard pressed to define their own position, and so what you’ve got to do is literally start with some other words because ‘Liberal’ and ‘Conservative’ ain’t cutting it.
You can listen to the complete interview here: