A recent study shows that Americans, by and large, are ignorant of the constitutional republic in which they live. Any which way you slice and dice these numbers it doesn’t look good for civics education in America.
According to the Annenberg Constitution Day Civics Survey, only a quarter of those asked could name all three branches of our government. Worse – 33% could not name one single, solitary office as in executive, legislative, and judicial. This is the proverbial tip of the iceberg as things only spiral downward from there.
When asked to name a right that the First Amendment guarantees, 37% percent of those surveyed could not name one without a prompt. What’s truly troubling isn’t just the widespread ignorance but the pervasive twisting of the Constitution in the minds of those polled. Despite the protections of the First Amendment, 39% support “allowing Congress to stop the news media from reporting on any issue of national security without government approval.”
Conservatives Should Not Cast the First Stone
For quite some time conservatives have been railing about poor civics education in America. But the Annenberg study was just as damning to those on the ideological right as to liberals. For instance, 67% of conservatives wrongly believe that illegal immigrants don’t have any constitutional rights. The U.S. Supreme Court in Yick Wo v. Hopkins ruled that illegals have the right to due process under the 14th Amendment which guarantees equal protection. Of those who self-identified as liberal, 46% said that illegal aliens do not have any constitutional rights. Of course, the question is whether the liberals really know this or just think it because of their political leanings. Anyway, you cut it, neither the conservatives nor the liberals come out of this study smelling like a rose.
What to Do?
LibertyNation.com is a project of One Generation Away whose sole purpose is “restoring, strengthening and preserving the vision of a free America by applying our founding principles to the issues of today.” Within the pages of the OneGen.org website lies Constitutional Conversations. These are a series of videos with renowned constitutional scholars done in collaboration with the James Madison Memorial Fellowship Foundation. These are user-friendly videos that teachers can use in the classroom to educate their students about the principles, framing, ratification, and implementation of constitutional government in the U.S.:
Roots of Liberty National Essay Contest
Another project of One Generation Away is the Roots of Liberty National Essay Contest. Each year thousands of high school students vie for a $5,000 grand prize by writing a thoughtful essay about our constitutional form of government. The contest takes place between Constitution Day, (September 17) and Bill of Rights Day (December 15) each year. With over 15 thousand dollars total in prizes, there is an incentive for teachers and students to spend some class time on what the founders said, did and accomplished.
Last year’s winner, Madeline Peltzer of Phoenix, Arizona wrote:
“I cannot thank you enough for the $5,000 scholarship. It is the most generous prize I have ever won! Essay contests like yours have had such a positive influence on my life, interests, college choices, and career hopes. Thank you for devoting yourselves to championing the cause of freedom and helping my generation understand the principles on which our nation was founded.”
The Annenberg study shows clearly the need for organizations like OneGen and Roots of Liberty as knowledge of our republic is on life support and in desperate need of resuscitation. It’s worth noting that in the first two years of the contest one grand prize winner came from a Christian school and the other from a homeschool environment. So, you have to wonder what’s going on in our public schools? As the contest has just begun its third year, it will be telling to see if a public-school student can rise to the top.
To those of us who have been watching, the Annenberg Study is not shocking. This train has been coming down the tracks for quite some time. The question is whether we will harness opportunities to learn more about the country through organizations like OneGen.org and Roots of Liberty, or will we be satisfied with an ill-informed populace who knows little to nothing about the gifts of freedom and liberty they have been given by their uncommon form of government?