This is America, where we have the right of free association. Without fear, we can say anything that pops into our heads.

Witness what happened in schoolrooms throughout the state recently when teachers asked students to do a little free-associating with the concepts contained in the Bill of Rights.This was a pre-test, just a measure of what the students already understand about our great democracy. After they have had some lessons prepared by the education division of the Utah State Bar, they will likely make more sophisticated responses.

For the pre-test teachers encouraged the students to think in terms of the U.S. Constitution and say the word or phrase that springs to mind when they hear various governmental terms.

In the younger grades students seem to have a firm grasp of the principles. "What do you think of when you think of America?" Kindergarten, first- and second-grade students answered "love" and "free country" and "justice for all."

The word "rights" was harder to pin down. "Everybody has a right time to shop," ventured a child from Weber County. Another Ogdenite, when he hears the word "rights," thinks of "keeping your feet and hands to yourself."

The word "responsibilities" elicited "feed my parrots," "changing my clothes," "whispering" and "mother."

How about "George Washington?" "First president," said several students. "Haven't seen him," said another.

Third- and fourth-graders were asked, "What do you think of when you think of Abraham Lincoln?" They answered, "A brown log cabin" and "He's got his head on a penny."

For "Constitution" they responded: "law," "Bill of Rights," "individuals" and "someone thinking hard."

Fifth- and sixth-graders were given more obscure terms, like the date that the Bill of Rights was ratified: "December 1791."

No one knew what happened then. "Cold and old," responded one student.

The response was pretty uniform to the word "ratify." The students thought of "gerbils," "turning into a rat" and "a rat having a baby."

The phrase "judicial system" brought to mind "judge" and "trouble" and "stomach (your stomach)."

What did they think of when they heard "Patrick Henry?" Well several students said "green" and "leprechauns" and "shamrocks." Of course. And "Germany," there's another word that would spring to mind.

And several fifth-graders also think "piano player" when they hear "Patrick Henry." Another said, "the man who invented bicycles."

One lad said, "A strong black man who raced a steam engine and won."

Another thought of "folklore." Another, respectfully, responded: "Patrick Henry - dead, bald and fat."

What all this proves, of course, is that we can be thankful to live in the United States, a place where if someone says "rights" to us we can say "pencil" if we want to.

In the United States we might be a little fuzzy on the details, but that doesn't stop us from talking. That's freedom of speech in action.


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Bill of Rights workshop will enhance bicentennial celebration

Our nation's bicentennial celebration wraps up this year with a commemoration of the ratification of the Bill of Rights.

On Dec. 15, 1791, the Bill of Rights officially became part of the U.S. Constitution - guaranteeing such rights as freedom of speech, press and religion.

Lt. Gov. Val Oveson and Keith A. Kelly, co-chairmen of the Utah Council on the Constitution, invite Utahns to a free Bill of Rights workshop on Friday, Feb. 1. They hope those who attend will want to take the Bill of Rights celebration into their local communities and schools.

Jack Anderson, whose column appears regularly in the Deseret News, is the keynote speaker. Others on the program include Dee Benson, Utah's U.S. attorney; Judge Judith Billings, Utah Court of Appeals; Michael Gerhardt, professor at the College of William and Mary; Rex Lee, president of Brigham Young University; and Judge Monroe McKay, 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Teachers who attend will be given the Bill of Rights special newspaper section, prepared by the Deseret News Newspaper in Education department.

The program will be held at 1 p.m. at the Utah Law and Justice Center, 625 S. 200 East. To register, call the lieutenant governor's office at 538-1040.