A Crisis in Civics Education

Tom Purcell
Posted: Oct 03, 2016 11:39 AM
A Crisis in Civics Education
"What do you mean Judge Judy is not a U.S. Supreme Court justice?"

"Ah, yes, you speak of a recent survey by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni's 'A Crisis in Civic Education.' ACTA found that a high percentage of college graduates are ignorant of the basic principles of our republic."

"I'm not ignorant. Try me."

"What's the process for amending the U.S. Constitution and how is an amendment is ratified?"

"That's easy. The president amends the Constitution with a red pen and ratifies his changes by telling government bureaucrats to write new rules and regulations. At least that's how President Obama seems to do it."

"Sorry, but the answer is in Article V of our Constitution. Amendments may be proposed by the Congress, when two-thirds of both the House and the Senate "deem it necessary," or by a convention of states called for by two-thirds of the state legislatures."

"I knew that. I was just checking to see that you did. What about ratification?"

"Well, to become a part of the U.S. Constitution, the amendment must be ratified by either the legislatures of three-fourths of our states, with each having equal voting weight, or by ratifying conventions in three-fourths of our states. The Congress decides which of the two ratification processes to follow."

"Whatever. With everybody shouting at each other these days, there's no way we'll ever get two-thirds of our politicians to agree on anything."

"The rancor in our politics is concerning, but what is more concerning is how little college-educated Americans know about their government. Fewer than half of college graduates knew that presidential impeachments are tried before the Senate."

"The Senate? You mean Judge Judy doesn't oversee impeachments, either?"

"Another worrisome finding of the survey was that almost 40 percent of college graduates did not know in our system of government only the Congress has the power to declare war."

"You can't fault me for not knowing that one, when our last three or four presidents didn't seem to know it, either."

"Here's a fact that confused more than half of the college graduates surveyed: How long are the terms of our members of Congress?"

"Let me take a stab at answering that one. In the House, the terms run until our representatives qualify for excessive retirement packages? And terms in the Senate run until a senator gets caught in an inappropriate relationship with one of his young staffers?"

"Unfortunately, you are not entirely incorrect. However, it is regrettable that so many college graduates do not know that House members serve two-year terms and Senate members serve six-year terms."

"Well, maybe this is all just a fluke. Maybe the college graduates who took this year's survey were having a bad day."

"If only that were the case. ACTA says that in its 2014 survey, one-third of college graduates were unaware that President Franklin Roosevelt spearheaded the New Deal. And in a survey last year, more than one-third of college graduates couldn't place the American Civil War within the correct 20-year time frame."

"You worry too much. What's the big deal if people are too busy to keep up with a bunch of random civics stuff?"

"Because, as the ACTA survey concludes, our Founders built a system of self-government that demands fully engaged and well-informed citizens. Poorly informed citizens are more easily manipulated by charlatan politicians, who, if not kept in check, will eventually be the ruin of system of government."

"Maybe Judge Judy can keep them in check. I hope she runs for Supreme Court in the next election."

"Oh, brother."