Op-ed: Ignorant nation

  • By Cal Thomas
  • Tuesday, September 19, 2017 11:39am
  • Opinion

At a National Archives ceremony last Friday in Washington, D.C., 30 immigrants became naturalized U.S. citizens. In a video, President Trump encouraged them to embrace the “full rights, and the sacred duties, that come with American citizenship.”

It was a noble sentiment that once resonated with Americans who believed passing along their history to a new generation of citizens was something that ought to be done. Not anymore.

One of the new citizens, Juliet Sanchez, a teacher born in Colombia, told the Washington Post: “We can and should respect, celebrate and embrace our new culture, but you shouldn’t tell us to assimilate.” This attitude may be one factor contributing to an increasingly divided America. The other is equally disturbing.

A recent poll conducted by the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center discovered that Americans are ignorant about the Constitution and the rights it protects.

The poll found that 37 percent of those interviewed could not name any of the five rights protected by the First Amendment. Forty-eight percent got freedom of speech right. Thirty-three percent could not name one of the three branches of government and only 26 percent correctly named all three.

Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, responded to the poll: “Protecting the rights guaranteed by the Constitution presupposes that we know what they are. The fact that many don’t is worrisome.”

One can’t have a country if citizens are ignorant of its origins and purpose. When I was in public school, civics was a required subject. That it is rarely taught today likely explains the disturbing Annenberg poll results. Adds Jamieson: “These results emphasize the need for high-quality civics education in the schools and for press reporting that underscores the existence of constitutional principles.”

Good luck with that. In an era emphasizing diversity and multiculturalism and the fear that anyone teaching the superiority of the Constitution might be named a xenophobe, or bigot, even the Pledge of Allegiance is being challenged in some schools in an effort not to offend immigrants.

Another study by the Newseum Institute discovered just 19 percent of those polled know the First Amendment guarantees freedom of religion.

Ignorance about the documents that founded and have sustained America through many challenges ensures the country we have known will not be recognized by future generations. That is fine with some on the far left who appear embarrassed and ashamed of America and think it the cause of many of the world’s problems.

Hillsdale College in Michigan is trying to make up for this ignorance about the Constitution by offering a free online course.

The problem begins in the public schools and extends into overpriced universities. Writing in last Saturday’s Wall Street Journal, Peter Berkowitz, a senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, said: “Few of the liberal arts and sciences faculty at these schools offer courses that explore the origins, structure, substance and aims of the education that they supposedly deliver. Instead they provide a smattering of classes on hot-button topics in higher education such as multiculturalism, inequality, gender and immigration. This is no trivial oversight, as the quality of American freedom depends on the quality of Americans’ education about freedom.”

Higher education’s failure to educate produces graduates who find it difficult to find jobs and must return home to live with parents. Unfortunately, when they return they’re burdened with crushing student loan debt, which according to the Department of Education, is at an all-time high of $1.33 trillion. So desperate are graduates to wipe out their debt that the personal finance website, Credible, surveyed millennials (ages 18 to 34) and found that 50 percent of them would give up their right to vote during the next two presidential election cycles in order to never make another loan payment.

What does this say about our next generation of Americans?

These polls demonstrate the failed products of a once-great American education system. It is why those who can afford it are turning to private schools or to home-schooling. Many consider public education to be America’s last monopoly, but these polls indicate that it isn’t working for individual Americans and it isn’t working for the nation.

Readers may email Cal Thomas at tcaeditors@tribpub.com.

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