A set of powerful ideas can be contained in a small package. John and Barbara Walter keep a stash of pocket-sized booklets in their home. Designed and printed by the Ashbrook Center, these contain the entire text of the US Constitution and its amendments, the Declaration of Independence, and a selection of key short primary documents illuminating the importance of these two basic founding documents. “Barbara and I have given hundreds of Constitution booklets away,” John says. “I carry it in my purse at all times and always have several lying on the coffee table,” Barbara explains. “If a visitor comes over and notices it, I ask if they would like to have one.” Recently she sent a box of the booklets to a school librarian and handed out another set in a high school government class.
The Walters share the booklets as a way to support the Ashbrook Center in its core mission: educating citizens for Constitutional self-government. Americans, the Walters believe, need to take a careful look at their own founding principles. Those ideas have not been neglected because they are too complex to understand; a small booklet can capture the essentials. But a century of expanding government, combined with historical revisionism, has obscured what Americans once knew about republican government.
“The young are our future leaders,” says Barbara, who herself has faced the challenge of educating adult voters. She recently served as Republican Party Chairman for Ohio’s Richland County. John credits her with helping to elect several candidates to local and state offices who had never before ventured into politics. But both Walters see greater gains to be made in educating for the long haul. “If you educate citizens well when they are young—before they face the burden of finding and keeping a job, paying the mortgage, and raising the kids—when they have time to grasp the lesson, you will have a greater impact,” Barbara says.
Regular attendees at the Major Lecture Series, the Walters appreciate Ashbrook programs for the general public as well as the Ashbrook Scholar program for undergraduates at Ashland University. They’ve shared dinner table conversation with Scholars and have been invited to watch students engage speakers in private colloquia. “The young people ask really pointed questions,” Barbara says. “You realize that in this program they teach kids the actual process of thinking, rather than what to think,” John adds. “And if you sit down to read one of their theses, you find a real depth of thought.”
The Walters have directed their most substantial giving to the Ashbrook Center’s programs for secondary school teachers, contributing to an endowment that provides scholarships to teachers who seek a Masters degree. They recognize that those who do the critical work of educating for the future must make a huge effort to get extra education in historical content. “We’ve received thank-you letters from students who received the scholarships who say there was no way they could have afforded their Masters education without the scholarship program,” said Barbara. The Walters also contributed what John calls “seed money” to the MAHG Live Online program. “That program is now established and doing well,” he says with satisfaction.
“What we’ve given in the grand scale of things is not very much, but if one is to truly bring our country back to functioning as a republic, one has to spread the word. In the MAHG program so far they have taught about 2300 teachers. Those teachers have together reached over 285,000 students,” John points out.
As the Walters see it, gifts to the Ashbrook Center protect the country’s future. “It’s the greatest investment you can make in the United States of America,” Barbara says. “It’s actually the greatest investment you can make in the world, because the existence of the US itself gives hope to people around the world who aspire to their own freedom.”