Civics 101

This article appeared in the March 25, 2015, issue of The Lawrence County Advocate.

In the ‘60s and ‘70s, which encompassed the span of my childhood, Loretto seemed like an idyllic place to grow up. We felt safe. We recognized that we owned the town as we walked or rode our bicycles with nary a care in the world first to school then to the drugstore for hamburgers and sodas. So when we cracked open our social studies books called Our American Heritage or We Choose America or maybe Build Our Nation, we got it. We were a part of something bigger, and these books were the key to figuring out what that something bigger was.

Some of us traveled, but mostly we saw America by scanning through our social studies books with their colorful photos of cities, towns, and fields of corn and wheat. I remember feeling proud to live in this country as I read of manufacturing in Ohio and agriculture in Iowa and Nebraska. Mostly I looked for my own way of life when the chapter turned to rural America.

When my girls were in school, I didn’t ask how this area of study was covered like I did English, science, and math. I’m not sure why. Perhaps I thought it was a given that the same joy would be placed in social studies as it had when I was a girl. And we had traveled quite a bit, exposing the girls to other areas of the country. But, when their standardized test scores would come in, their social studies grades would be the lowest of all. I puzzled over this because, hey, social studies just required memorization. Right?

Turns out, when time is crunched with other things like standardized testing or Red Ribbon Week, social studies gets the ax (though English and math usually are spared). Incredibly, as kids are losing their nation view, they also are missing a very vital part of our American experience. They have little to no clue of civics.

Today we have a citizenry who can’t seem to fathom much of our country’s history much less its government. I watched a YouTube video the other day published by a Texas Tech University student group called PoliTech that shocked me. An interviewer asked questions to fellow students like “Who won the Civil War?” and “Who did we defeat in the Revolutionary War?” The students could not answer even basic history questions. They didn’t know politics either. One only got “Joe Biden” with a prompt of “Joe” after the question “Who is the vice president of the United States?” Needless to say, I was appalled.

Assuming the video was not edited, the statistics don’t bode well for our youth. I wonder how in the world these kids got through elementary and high school without knowing basic facts about our country.

Which leads me to an even greater concern. In a recent AP article in the newspaper entitled “Iran confronts US about GOP letter” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif joked that some U.S. legislators didn’t understand their own Constitution, and he was right, sadly.

It would seem that ignorance of the governance of this country goes all the way to the top.

The 47 senators who signed that ill-timed and ill- advised letter to the leader of Iran most surely broke the law as much as they broke protocol. In United States v. Curtiss-Wright Export Corp. (1936), Justice Sutherland wrote in the majority opinion: “The President alone has the power to speak or listen as a representative of the nation. He makes treaties with the advice and consent of the Senate; but he alone negotiates. Into the field of negotiation the Senate cannot intrude, and Congress itself is powerless to invade it.”

Those members of Congress who circumvented the law essentially threw a tantrum of epic proportions that still reverberates from here to the Middle East, harming sensitive negotiations that affect most of the world. It is as if they are unaware of the laws of this country or the Constitution.

Perhaps it is time that elected officials be required to take a course like Civics 101 on the subject of America and her laws, pass a test, and prove themselves capable of governing this country before they are allowed any representational voice.

It is also high time our youth were taught proper civics classes again. Knowledge of the strata of our country, from cities to states to the federal government is vital to their taking an active part in where they live as adults. It is also essential that they have a grasp of their rights and responsibilities and can choose candidates based on real qualifications when, at the age of 18, they fulfill their civic duty to vote.

As Thomas Jefferson said, “The cornerstone of democracy rests on the foundation of an educated electorate.”

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