While Congress spends -- and plans to spend -- like the proverbial drunken sailor to "bailout" various industries for practices that are largely their fault and the fault of those in Congress who were supposed to provide oversight, another deficit looms which is at least as troubling as the economic one.
For the third straight year, the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI) has found that a large number of Americans cannot pass a basic 33-question civic literacy test on their country's history and institutions. The multiple-choice questions ask about the inalienable rights mentioned in the Declaration of Independence (life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness), the name of Franklin D. Roosevelt's 1933 series of government programs (The New Deal) and the three branches of government (executive, legislative, judicial). No, I didn't peek at the answers. I received a good education.
The random sample of 2,508 American adults, ranging from those without high school diplomas, to people with advanced degrees, revealed a minimal difference in civic literacy between the uneducated and the highly educated. Fifty-six percent of those surveyed could identify Paula Abdul as one of the judges on "American Idol," but only 21 percent were able to recognize a phrase from Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. I had to memorize that speech in high school. What are they memorizing now?
Not much of any use, it appears. Ignorance of America's history and heritage is a setup for politicians and others who want to manipulate us into a way of thinking that allows them to make decisions that are unconstitutional and unwise. More than repeating phrases and figures, knowledge of the past prepares us for a future based on unchanging principles. That's why knowledge matters and ignorance endangers our government and threatens our way of life even more than terrorism.
Civic illiteracy in the United States crosses all educational lines, including the vaunted Harvard where, according to the ISI survey, seniors scored 69.56 on the test, or a D-plus. And they were the best. The survey found that up to three-fourths of Americans believe teaching America's heritage is fundamental to a good education and to producing good citizens. So why is it not being done?
Part of it, I think, has to do with the continued embarrassment by the liberal education establishment over America and what it means to be an American. From their guilt about prosperity and our freedoms, to their opposition to "dead white males," college professors, especially since the '60s, have favored the trendy and quaint over the established and proven.
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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