Ap­par­ently, a lot of peo­ple skipped civics class

Pawtucket Times - - OPINION -

The fol­low­ing ed­i­to­rial ap­peared in The Spring­field Repub­li­can on Sept. 15:

Ask some­one to name the three branches of our fed­eral gov­ern­ment, and you might rea­son­ably ex­pect that most ev­ery­one in our na­tion would eas­ily be able to an­swer such a sim­ple ques­tion. Not so. Here was U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, who served in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives from 1981 to 1999 and who is cur­rently the Se­nate mi­nor­ity leader, speak­ing back in 2011:

"You know, we have three branches of gov­ern­ment: we have a House, we have a Se­nate, we have a pres­i­dent." Well, not quite. But still, he was closer than so many folk.

A new sur­vey by the An­nen­berg Public Pol­icy Cen­ter found that fully one per­son in three can­not name even one branch of the fed­eral gov­ern­ment. Re­ally. Thirty-three per­cent of the peo­ple.

(For the record, the three branches are the leg­isla­tive (made up of both the House and the Se­nate), the ex­ec­u­tive (the pres­i­dent), and the judicial (the fed­eral courts).

Th­ese are de­tailed in the first three ar­ti­cles of our na­tion's Con­sti­tu­tion.

And some­thing so fun­da­men­tal was once rou­tinely taught in schools all across the land. In civics classes. Per­haps hav­ing given up on teach­ing the ba­sics wasn't such a great idea af­ter all?

An­other find­ing from the an­nual An­nen­berg Con­sti­tu­tion Day Civics Sur­vey

Nearly four peo­ple in 10 can­not name even one sin­gle right pro­tected by the First Amend­ment to our Con­sti­tu­tion. Re­ally. Not one.

Fully 37 per­cent, asked to name the rights de­lin­eated in the First Amend­ment, the open­ing part of the Bill of Rights, drew a com­plete blank.

This is mind-bog­gling. Peo­ple of all po­lit­i­cal lean­ings ought to be able to come to­gether to fret and fume over such dis­mal re­sults. How can we hope to pro­tect and de­fend our frag­ile democ­racy when so many don't even know the ba­sics?

(For the record, the First Amend­ment pro­tects five rights. It reads as fol­lows: "Congress shall make no law re­spect­ing an es­tab­lish­ment of re­li­gion, or pro­hibit­ing the free ex­er­cise thereof; or abridg­ing the free­dom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the peo­ple peace­ably to as­sem­ble, and to pe­ti­tion the Gov­ern­ment for a re­dress of griev­ances.")

Free­dom of re­li­gion. Of speech. Of the press. Th­ese are en­shrined in our found­ing doc­u­ment, and used to be learned by school kids across the land.

How can the peo­ple be ex­pected to make wise de­ci­sions re­gard­ing who will rep­re­sent them in the Congress, or who should serve as pres­i­dent, when so many don't know much of any­thing at all about how our gov­ern­ment works?

Ask a friend or a co­worker how a bill be­comes a law – and be pre­pared to cringe at the re­sponse.

Ask a friend or a co­worker what he re­mem­bers from civics class, and get ready for a blank stare.

This an­nual sur­vey must beget more than hand-wring­ing and eye-rolling. School boards across the land, take note.

And then take ac­tion.

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