These surveys about how ignorant Americans are have become hardy perennials. Survey data confirm that large numbers of Americans lack even rudimentary knowledge of what used to be called "eighth-grade civics." A survey by Common Core found that 25 percent of American high school students thought Christopher Columbus sailed after the year 1750, and about a third of them did not know the Bill of Rights guarantees freedom of speech and religion.
We can all have a good laugh at the expense of the ignorant kids, but, of course, if they are truly undereducated (and these surveys can exaggerate), it's largely the fault of our schools.
It's nice to be reminded, from time to time, about what good schools and good teachers can achieve.
In McLean, Va., a suburb of the District of Columbia, Langley High School has for the past 22 years conducted a program called "Case Day." The brainchild of teacher Steven Catlett and former clerk of the U.S. Supreme Court General William Suter, Case Day involves the entire school (but most intensively the seniors in government class) in studying a pending Supreme Court case. Government teachers Allison Cohen and Micah Herzig, both former lawyers, try to choose cases that will engage teenagers. In past years, students have argued District of Columbia v. Heller (the gun control challenge), Morse v. Frederick (the "bong hits for Jesus" case), and Grutter v. Bollinger (an affirmative action question).
Four students were assigned to argue the cases before a panel of nine "justices," which included two students and also law professors, practicing lawyers and members of the school board. Suter played the role of chief justice.