“Human history becomes more and more, a race between education and catastrophe.” — H.G. Wells
I’m beyond infuriated at what the annual Annenberg Constitution Day Civics Survey revealed about my countrymen. Apparently, “Many Americans are poorly informed about basic constitutional provisions.” That’s putting it mildly.
Just in case anyone needs a refresher, here’s the First Amendment:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
When asked what specific rights are guaranteed by the First Amendment, a whopping 37% couldn’t name ANY rights associated with the First Amendment without prompting.
48% said freedom of speech. Only 15% named freedom of religion as a guaranteed right, followed by 14% who remembered freedom of the press, 10% who included right of assembly, and only 3% mentioning right to petition.
This means eighty-five percent of Americans do not immediately associate the First Amendment with freedom of religion, and nearly two-thirds of Americans can’t name any of their First Amendment rights at all.
The rest of the survey is just as bad. A staggering 74% of Americans cannot name all three branches of government. 33% can’t name even one.
However, plenty of Americans seem perfectly clear on other things. For example, 53% of Americans surveyed (more than half!) think undocumented immigrants have zero rights under our Constitution (wrong, wrong, and wrong.) Around 20-25% think atheists and Muslims don’t have equal rights with Christians under the Constitution.
(Guess what questions are on the civics exam for immigrants seeking citizenship? Hint, one has to do with rights guaranteed by the First Amendment. Another asks what the three branches of government are. A third asks the applicant to define “freedom of religion.”)
What the hell happened to our education system? In 2012, research from the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) revealed that only eight states had statewide, standardized tests specifically in civics / American government, and of these, only two required students to pass the test to graduate high school. Only nine states required even a basic social studies test to be passed to graduate.
The 2014 the Youth Civic Development and Education Report from Stanford University stated that “A common grounding in the history, values, and workings of the American constitutional tradition is essential to ensure access and dedication to citizenship for all students in our increasingly diverse society. Despite the clear urgency of this mission, civic education as practiced in schools throughout the United States is not preparing students for effective participation in civic life.”
Education Secretary and double Jesus champion Betsy De Vos isn’t planning to help matters. She compared the system of education in the country to a biblical battlefield, and has been instrumental in gutting the Office for Civil Rights.
The lack of knowledge about our country’s Constitution reaches to every possible corner. Check this fact out; the last time I verified it, pursuant to documents released via the Freedom of Information Act, the United States Air Force Academy, which I and many of my family members attended and graduated from, only includes one hour of specific education on the First Amendment during the course of 4 long years of cadet educational curriculum– and it’s optional. If that sad fact has ever changed, I am eagerly waiting to hear so.
A direct result of this specific example is the dismal rate of abusive, evangelical fundamentalist proselytization by Christians in positions of authority in the US Armed Forces.
It’s only as recently as 2013 – with the support of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF, of which I am founder and president) that Air Force Academy cadets were no longer forced to include the words “so help me God” as part of their Honor oath.
Of course, a mere two years later, Rep. Sam Johnson (R-TX) saw fit to put forth the vile “Preserve and Protect God in Military Oaths Act”, to which I responded, “Congressman Sam Johnson should be tried for treason and sedition. The astounding ignorance and bigotry displayed by his brazen presentation of this proposed wretched sectarian legislation is literally mind-ripping.”
But this disgrace is what the country has come to. The very people sworn to uphold our Constitution often have no idea what is in the document they defend, and the Trump / De Vos plan for “education” in the U.S. is designed to only make things worse – civics is right up there with the arts on the chopping block in the 2018 budget.
H.G. Wells had it SO right; in that vital civilization-sustaining race between “education and catastrophe”, catastrophe is perilously winning.