Beautiful Laws of Earlier Eras

Arthur Ohnimus

Arthur Ohnimus

With all of the thousands of bills introduced in Sacramento each year, one thing that’s missing is the old-fashioned beautiful law. Don’t get me wrong, the good people at Legislative Counsel do a solid job translating the ideas of legislators and staff into well-written bills. What’s missing is the elegance of some of the older laws that conveyed not only legal requirements, but did so in a way that was both clear and inspiring. My favorite example is the old California Education Code Section 13230, as written back in 1943. The nation was at war, and legislators wanted to make it clear to teachers that it was important that their students learn just what it meant to be an American:

California Education Code, Section 13230 (1943)
13230. Each teacher shall endeavor to impress upon the minds of the pupils the principles of morality, truth, justice, and patriotism, to teach them to avoid idleness, profanity, and falsehood, to instruct them in the principles of a free government, and to train them up to a true comprehension of the rights, duties, and dignity of American citizenship.

This section was a complete idea, lacking nothing. But, over the years, legislators felt the need to improve on perfection. The code section was amended a number of time to add phrases about the importance of “encourag[ing] pupils to realize their full potential” and preventing “acts of hate violence”. Today, this code section reads;

California Education Code, Section 233.5 (Current statute since 1998)
233.5.  (a) Each teacher shall endeavor to impress upon the minds of the pupils the principles of morality, truth, justice, patriotism, and a true comprehension of the rights, duties, and dignity of American citizenship, and the meaning of equality and human dignity, including the promotion of harmonious relations, kindness toward domestic pets and the humane treatment of living creatures, to teach them to avoid idleness, profanity, and falsehood, and to instruct them in manners and morals and the principles of a free government.
(b) Each teacher is also encouraged to create and foster an environment that encourages pupils to realize their full potential and that is free from discriminatory attitudes, practices, events, or activities, in order to prevent acts of hate violence, as defined in subdivision (e) of Section 233.

Of course, it wouldn’t be politically correct to revert this law to its original form. Most elected officials are smart enough to realize that they’re not going to score a lot of points by offering a bill that would delete the requirement that teachers encourage their students to treat living creatures in a “humane manner”. Because nobody hates “harmonious relations” and “kindness toward domestic pets”, right? Well, almost nobody.