Without consulting “the Google” or any other resource answer these questions. What are the three branches of government? How many justices serve on the US Supreme Court? What do we call the first 10 amendments to the Constitution? How many voting members are there in the US Congress? Name at least three rights guaranteed every citizen of this country.
Finally, what day was the Declaration of Independence adopted?
These are among the questions people who seek to become US citizens are asked, but the Annenberg Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania reported that only 51 percent of Americans could identify all branches of government, only 54 percent understood what happened if the Supreme Court had a 5-4 verdict and only 19 percent could name a single 1st Amendment right.
Are you surprised?
Tommy Tuberville, the former Auburn University football coach and recently sworn-in U.S. Senator from Alabama, didn’t know the answers.
In his first interview after being elected, he said the three branches of government were “the House, Senate and Executive.” He further said that his dad had fought in World War II to free Europe from socialism and that Al Gore had actually served as President-elect in 2000 for thirty days. All wrong. Look ‘em up.
The obvious solution to this depressing lack of knowledge about U.S. citizenship is that we need to do a better job educating our young people (and adults) in our history, what it means to be a good citizen and how government works.
Unfortunately, North Carolina has recently taken steps that will ensure even less knowledge about the core principals of our country.
Last January, the State Board of Education changed requirements for high school graduation to mandate four social studies courses: World History, American History, Civic Literacy and Economics, and Personal Finance.
The latter course was added after legislators determined that it was more important for young people to know more about managing their credit cards than it was to know our history.
North Carolina history is introduced to students in fourth and fifth grades, with an emphasis in the eighth grade. The World History class begins at the year 1200.
Obviously, nothing important happened before that date. American History has been consolidated from two courses into one; that course covers from 1763 to the recent election. Students are expected to learn the most significant developments of the past 257 years in one course.
Are our shortcomings more understandable now?
We believe these changes were made with good intentions and join in recognizing the value of young people understanding how to handle their finances, especially knowing how much interest they are being charged. But our lawmakers and educators took the easy path rather than the correct one.
We could have eliminated some of the many workdays or trimmed the number of days in fall, Christmas or spring breaks. We could have even extended the school day by 30 minutes, or even expanded the current 180-day school calendar. Any of these suggestions would have been met with opposition from parents, educators or lawmakers, but we would probably turn out better citizens.
Maybe we should mandate that to graduate from high school our students be required to get a passing grade on the citizenship exam. And without question we should expect those we elect to pass that test. It is sad that new immigrant citizens know more about civics than most of us.
Tom Campbell is former assistant North Carolina State Treasurer and is creator/host of NC SPIN, a weekly statewide television discussion of NC issues that airs on UNC-TV main channel Fridays at 7:30 p.m., Sundays 12:30 p.m. and UNC North Carolina Channel Fridays at 10 p.m,. Saturdays at 4 p.m. and Sundays at 10 a.m. Contact him at email@example.com.