We in the United States of America all too often take these for granted. For generation upon generation we have lived with peaceful government transitions, the ability to challenge and test our rule of law, limited government power, and the right of the people to be heard.
Despite what many Americans might believe, this didn't begin with the the Declaration of Independence. Instead, the path to individual rights was forged centuries before with the Magna Carta in 1215.
The Magna Carta, literally the "Great Charter," granted political and civil liberties, greatly preducing the power of the English monarchy and allowing for the formation of a powerful Parliament. King John of England (1166 - 1216) was forced to sign it by Archbishop Stephen Langton and the most powerful barrons of England. This document forced the king to govern by pre-Norman laws and demonstrated that the reach of the monarchy could be limited by written edict.
The power of this document cannot be understated. Its influence can be seen in current British law, the Declaration of Rights in the Maryland Constitution of 1776, the U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights. Five and a half centuries before the Revolutionary War, the Magna Carta laid the groundwork for separation of Church and State, levying of taxes, right to trial by jury, and uniformity of weights and measures. While not a perfect document, (women's rights are virtually non-existent), it was an enormous leap forward in thinking and action.
We in the greater San Francisco Bay Area can now view this truly revolutionary document at the Legion of Honor. On loan from the Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford, the manuscript will be on view from May 7 through June 5. This once-in-a-lifetime event is an extraordinary opportunity to see the power of the written word.
When considering visiting this exhibit, please don't limit it to older children and youths. If you're able to go with other adults who can help with little kids (take them outside when the wiggles strike), please do. This document is intrinsic to all our lives. It's up to us, as homeschooling parents, to make it relevant to our entire family. Older students can certainly learn about and appreciate the Magna Carta's historical significance; younger students can focus on the interesting writing and colors, talk about the picture on the wax seal, or watch the people coming to visit. The Legion of Honor has many other on-going exhibits, as well. If you keep in mind these Tips for Successful Museum Visits, everyone should gain something positive from their visit.
For more field trip ideas,check out GHF's Virtual Field Trips page.
For more information on the Magna Carta, check out the following links:
Magna Carta to make rare appearance, San Jose Mercury News, 4/06/11
Legion of Honor, Magna Carta
Translated text of the Magna Carta
Magna Carta 1215
Wikipedia: Magna Carta
Books about the Magna Carta
Article by Sarah J. Wilson