Friday, July 6, 2012

1/3 of Americans would not pass the citizenship test

The statistic about Americans failing the citizenship test has appeared from time to time in our news articles. The most recent one I have read states that  a third of all native born Americans would fail the citizenship test.  It is embarrassing that a third of Americans would fail tests that are supposed to test what every American should fundamentally know. And one can wonder how many of those Americans who failed could identify who Kim Kardasian is or who the MVP of the NFL was for the current; but rather than rail against the Americans who failed the test, I noticed something else far more troubling.

The article states that fully 71% of those who took the test could not identify that the Constitution is the law of the land.  It is no surprise then that so many laws in the country, which blatantly violate the Constitution, barely cause a peep from the American public. It gets even worse as more than 50% of Americans cannot successfully identify what an amendment is. What these statistics show is that Americans, even those who passed the citizenship test, are woefully uninformed on the nuts and bolts of how their government works, or ought to work.  This is the real problem as a republic cannot function well, or even function at all, without an informed populace behind the helm.  This is what Benjamin Franklin meant when he responded to a question on our form of government with the oft quoted phase "A republic if you can keep it."
A republic cannot function without an informed populace as it too easily descends into the anarchy that populist democracy brings.  Popular votes are very important, but they must be tempered by well thought out laws that protect the rights of minorities (in the ideological sense not just the racial sense) from the whims of the majority.  The laws themselves may be unjust or flawed, and they can be changed, but they must be changed according to a specific system with clear and concise rules. Hence the processes of constitutional amendments.  If Obama wanted to make Obama care constitutional, as it was understood originally prior to the supreme court's work around, then he could have passed a constitutional amendment.  Though if he had elected to do so it would probably not have passed, as amendments not only have to garner a 2/3 of the votes in congress but 3/4 of the states must sign on as well; not impossible, but incredibly difficult.  However, it is much easier to twist and skew the Constitution, finding conflicts in the words were none originally existed, and find a work about way to make acts constitutional, but I digress.

The major reason, I believe, why this is an issue is that our educational system spends far too much time on the concepts of 'citizenship' than how our government works. Just look at this article. The most popular concept, with fully 50% of teachers agreeing that it is important to teach this, is tolerance and equality. Right behind that is community service.  Having our students understand the key principles of our government garnered between 38% to 43% seeing this as extremely important.  This is completely backwards.  Tolerance, equality, and community service is fine, even with the heavy leftist overtones that are hidden in the 'lessons', but schools do a terrible job teaching this.  Why? Because they can't, that's the parents job, and if the parent isn't instilling those virtues into their children then I can assure you there is no way a school can.  The schools are simply wasting time and money.

Our educational system is messed up for a lot of reason, the biggest being heavy federal government involvement, teacher unions, and the inability for parents to freely choose which school to send their kids to, but this focus on the classic feel good lessons of progressivism is a big one; and is a huge disservice to our children.  Make no mistake, the primary goal of any educational institution is to teach them reading, writing, and arithmetic. Those are the fundamental cornerstones of critical thinking, and without them you cannot even begin to address higher levels of education.  The secondary level of education is instilling knowledge about our culture (western civilization) and how our government works.  Good 'citizenship', 'tolerance', and 'equality' would be tertiary concerns at best, and frankly I do not think schools should spend their time teaching this (we get enough of these lessons from popular culture today as is).

It's unrealistic to expect students to know how many amendments are in the constitution, there are 28 though I had originally thought 25, but they should know the first ten. And not only know them via rote memorization, but understand why they were passed.  And not through the writings of an academic or activist 200 years after the fact, but by the founders themselves. They were a prolific lot and will tell you exactly what they meant and why they wrote what they did.  It is imperative that individuals understand the concepts that federal powers need to be explicitly mandated, not implied, in the constitution. That the state has first priority on passing laws and legislation, not the federal government, provided it doesn't violate the constitution.  That our founders carefully crafted a governmental system to balance the myriad of interests that exist in our government.  And that the primary duty of the American citizen is to be informed when it comes to policy, and  that our founders thought it best if we (the American people) defaulted towards a mistrust of our own government.

I often roll my eyes when I hear the words "we need to educate" or "more education is need" or "our schools need to teach this" because far too often it takes away from the primary responsibilities of the teachers, I am looking at you earth day, but a proper understanding of government falls exactly into the domain of our school system. It is their job to make sure our children understand how our government works, why it works this way, and the way our founders intended it to work.  If they did then you would find far less individuals in occupy protests, embracing socialism, or simply ignoring politics all together.

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Seattle resident whose real name is Kevin Daniels. This blog covers the following topics, libertarian philosophy, realpolitik, western culture, history and the pursuit of truth from the perspective of a libertarian traditionalist.