Who wrote the Declaration of Independence?
Who is in charge of the Executive branch of the US government?
What is the supreme law of the land?
How many justices sit on the Supreme Court?
These and similar questions were asked of a group of Arizona high school students in a recent Goldwater Institute survey. The aim of the survey was to find out if native-born Americans knew enough about America to pass the citizenship test given to those seeking to become American citizens. The result: 96.5% of the students failed the test.
But our kids aren’t stupid. Ask these same students to list the ingredients of a Big Mac and they do quite well, thank you very much. The issue isn’t smart versus stupid; it is a question of what really matters to them. We know a lot about what matters, and nothing at all about what doesn’t matter. And as long as McDonald’s matters more than McCarthy (Joseph, not Charlie) Americans will be driven by fat and fear for years to come.
Who took civics out of the high school curriculum? How can we raise a free people when we have no idea what freedom is, and how our system of government was created to secure and maintain it? What hope is there when you ask kids about “moon walk” and they talk about Michael Jackson rather than the Apollo astronauts?
Yesterday I wrote about the racism being preached on right-wing commercial radio. I wrote how frightening it was to hear such ignorance spewed across the airwaves and to know that the vast majority of listeners didn’t know it was ignorance. The Goldwater survey makes it is clear that this isn’t going to change anytime soon.
Tomorrow is the Fourth of July. Most of us are going to stuff ourselves with pork by-products, and “oo” and “ah” over fireworks. Fine. But let me suggest that the best way to celebrate the Fourth of July is to sit down with friends and family to read and discuss the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights. I’d say we should read the entire Constitution, but that might be too much for one day.
I worry that the United States is well on its way to becoming a failed experiment. Democracy requires more effort, civic education, and moral courage than most of us seem to possess or are willing to pursue. True, I am a pessimist. And while I would love to proven wrong, I suspect I won’t be.
So have a happy Fourth of July. And, just for fun, see if any of your kids or friends know whose buried in Grant’s Tomb.