Sunday, October 5, 2008

Revisiting our textbooks

Why are so many Americans clueless about American history and civics?

Casual efforts to administer to regular citizens the exact same exam questions that a naturalized citizen must take yield dismal results. Lots and lots of people, even people who vote in every election, don't realize that the President is not elected by popular vote. Most of these people can not name who would ascend to the Presidency if both the Pres and VP died, and some of those who can name the position are unsure who currently fills it. From all I can tell, a majority of Americans do not know how many Justices make up the Supreme Court.

These are just the civic issues... the historical issues may be even worse. Do you know who was President during World War I? The naturalized citizen up the street, who gave up their life in another place because they believed in the promise of America, does. Ask an American to list the Presidents in order and many will fall off after #1. Most will quit or be dead wrong after 2, 3, or 4. Better yet, ask them to give the Presidents in reverse order, starting with George W. Bush. An occasional American does not know the name of the current President, and many do not know the name of the current VP. Again, the further along you get, the quicker they start dropping. Here's a fun one: who did America fight in the war for our independence? IF you'd answered France, you'd be so very wrong, or funny, but you'd also be very far from alone.

Why is it we as Americans do not feel compelled to understand these basic things about our own country? When we say that America is the greatest nation on earth, is it just because we were lucky enough to be born here, or do we stand for something more, for our own common ideals? To claim the exceptionalism of America without understanding what makes our country great is bald nationalism, which has a long history of turning great countries to piles of rubble. Let's not do that, hmmm?

1 comment:

  1. I believe it's because we teach it to kids... yeah, there are some kids that are really into government and our nation's history but I would venture to say they are in the minority. I know that I *hated* history, economics, and government classes. Now that I'm an adult (and living in a history rich state) I am much more interested.