On July 2 NBC News reported on the results of a poll conducted by Marist College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. The survey found that 26 percent of Americans under 29 did not know which were the two sides that fought in the Revolutionary War. Of this percentage, 6 percent were unsure that the United States fought a war of independence at all.
After talking with a few young people, I am not surprised. Some couldn’t name one Supreme Count justice, and one even did not know that the Supreme Court existed. They didn’t know about Brown vs. Board of Education but I heard a lot about the case of Bong Hits 4 Jesus.
If at least one-fourth of our young people do not have some basic knowledge of the government, how can they be expected to understand a filibuster (that isn’t actually one), a budget reconciliation or an earmark?
In contrast, over the Independence Day weekend the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service naturalized more than 3,800 candidates. These individuals passed a comprehensive test with questions that cover the three branches of government and what keeps one from becoming too powerful, the number of voting members in the House of Representatives, and what the Constitution does. How many citizens born in America could pass this test?
Perhaps the solution would be to require everyone in the United States, whether their ancestors came over the Atlantic Ocean in 1692 or the Rio Grande in 2010, to take the citizenship test. Those who fail the test have to return to their country of origin and not come back until they can pass. This would be a simple solution to the thorny problem of immigration.
A more realistic solution would be to take partisan politics out of the study of American history. We seem more interested in rewriting history than teaching it. Everyone wants to be sure that their own interests are included in the curriculum. Hispanics want to see more Latino figures as role models, and blacks want more black history.
The conservatives have their own agenda. An article in the March 12, 2010, in The New York Times titled “Texas Conservatives Win Curriculum Changes” by James C. McKinley Jr. addressed this issue. It listed some of the 100 amendments to the social studies curriculum that the Texas Board of Education passed. Some changes demanded that textbooks include a justification of the McCarthy era, the Moral Majority movement, and the National Rifle Association. On the other hand they cut Thomas Jefferson from a list of writers who inspired the Revolution because he coined the term of the conservatives’ pet peeve — “separation of church and state.”
It is time for the grown-ups to get out of the school room. Our country has a rich and fascination history. The next generation deserves to learn objective facts. As the science fiction writer Robert Heinlein wrote, “A generation that ignores history has no past and no future.
Now if only I could remember the names of the Supreme Court Justices.