A Civics Discourse

Recently two extremely depressing studies have been released demonstrating the understanding (or lack thereof) that American citizens have about their government and their fundamental rights.

Reading the results are somewhat terrifying in a constitutional republic that is supposed to have a government that operates with the consent of the governed. What is worse, it would seem we are putting our children through a compulsory educational system that allows them to know less about their system of government than those who wish to gain naturalized citizenship. Shall we take a look?

The Naturalization Test, is a set of 100 questions where 10 are randomly selected by an examiner and answered orally. So an applicant must study the answers to all 100 to ensure passing with a 6 out of 10 score. This is a single component of the full process, but I would think it is instructive on the basic expectations we as a society should have for citizens who are going to, oh I don’t know, vote?

The test is broken down into several categories:

  1. Principles of American Democracy – This section covers the purpose and content of our founding documents and includes the understanding that the Constitution is the supreme law of the land. Don’t tell the Democrats. Shhhhh!
  2. System of Government – Questions here include the three branches of government and how they operate, to include how laws are created and the separation of powers. It also asks questions about who is currently in office and differentiates federal and state powers.
  3. Rights and Responsibilities – New citizens are asked who can vote, who can hold office and to articulate one of several rights guaranteed under the Bill of Rights. Believe it or not an acceptable answer is the right to bear arms. This must confuse new citizens is a few states.
  4. American History – covers major events from colonization to to September 11, 2001.
  5. Integrated Civics – Includes major geographical features of the US, our flag, anthem and holidays.

Seems pretty legit and appears to be a body of information we would want all fully functional adults capable of casting a ballot to know. So how do new citizens who study all of this information stack up against our own citizens educated in an expensive and compulsory system? Well…..

Headline from the Annenburg Policy Center – “Americans Are Poorly Informed About Basic Constitutional Provisions”. In a survey of 1,013 adults in the United States released on September 12, 2017 the following results were noted:

  • More than half of Americans (53 percent) incorrectly think it is accurate to say that immigrants who are here illegally do not have any rights under the U.S. Constitution;
  • More than a third of those surveyed (37 percent) can’t name any of the rights guaranteed under the First Amendment;
  • Only a quarter of Americans (26 percent) can name all three branches of government.

As compared with results in 2011, the first year of the survey, 33% not being able to name a single branch is steady, but the number that can name all three has declined from 38% to 26%. Further, unprompted, 37% of respondents could not name a single right articulated in the First Amendment.

The next equally depressing result came from the Brooking Institute with a survey of college students and their views on the First Amendment. The most worrisome result on this survey is about 1/5 of college students believe it is okay to resort to violence to shut down a speaker they do not like. Nearly 2/3 of self identified campus Democrats believe shouting down a speaker is okay. And across the board a majority of these students believe if an offensive speaker in on campus there is a legal obligation for the university to provide an alternate point of view. Across the political spectrum students also expressed a desire for a more sheltered college environment that bans “offensive” speech.

The only way the results listed above can be explained is that we have what can only be called a crisis in basic civics education. I learned civics from the day I started school. Knowing what the Stars and Stripes in our flag stand for, how a bill becomes a law, what my First Amendment Rights are and that the Constitution is the supreme law of the land are things I do not remember not knowing. From coloring sheets in kindergarten to Saturday morning cartoons and Schoolhouse Rock, these concepts were reinforced continuously from my early childhood through my post graduate education. Somewhere along the line it be became more important to teach new pronouns like ze/zhe and apologize for our colonial history then it was to raise responsible citizens.

So perhaps Secretary DeVos has one more challenge to add to her list. In addition to restoring due process protections for college age men and expanding educational choice, perhaps we need to consider a national civics curriculum. I am not generally a fan of mandates, but in leaving no child behind and creating a common core of progressive nonsense we have clearly lost sight of the fundamental responsibility to create functional citizens in a republic. We have a national set of criteria to test the knowledge of new citizens. Perhaps we need a national set of criteria to produce our own good citizens. Based not on progressive apology, but rather Supreme Court decisions involving our most basic rights and the Constitution.

Or, we could always make everyone take the citizenship test prior to registering to vote. Don’t @ me. I’m not sure I think it’s a bad idea. Maybe then Carl Reiner couldn’t tweet stupid things like this and get 4,500 faves. Jerk.

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