Sunday, December 28, 2014

American Governance ... An Informed Citizenry is a Fundamental Requirement of a Well Functioning Society of Equals

American citizenship in the world's oldest democracy is a wonderful thing. But it comes with civic obligations and responsibilities. It's definitely not a free thing.

Somewhere along the way too many of us seem to have forgotten that for our nation to prosper, it must be made up of free, hard working, educated and informed American citizens.

As Americans we are each equally free to pursue our individual goals, but there are no guaranteed outcomes. General Douglas MacArthur said it best, "There is no security on this earth; there is only opportunity." So while we are blessed with unlimited opportunities, what we do with those opportunities is up to us. We're free to choose and pursue our way through life as we see fit.

Our government is there to serve us, and not to tell us what to do or to do for us that which we can do for ourselves.

Perhaps the 'Father of our Constitution' James Madison put it best in 1788 when he wrote the following in The Federalist Papers: No. 51:

"Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place. It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices are necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.

A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions."

Freedom in a democratic form of government requires its members to properly assume and discharge their civic responsibilities. In that regard, an informed electorate is essential. However, it's not a given and it doesn't happen automatically. It must be learned and continuously practiced.

Civics Instruction Moves Up in Class is subtitled 'More states mandate tests on the Subject Amid a Movement for Use of Citizenship Exam:'

"After years on the back burner of the nation’s educational agenda, civics is making a comeback, with a number of states mandating new classes or assessments and a burgeoning national push for high-school seniors to pass the exam required of new citizens. . . .

Recent national reports show students could use a lesson in civics, which generally studies the role of citizens in public issues and covers such topics as how to dissect current events or apply the Constitution to modern issues. About two-thirds of students tested below proficient on the civics portion of the National Assessment of Educational Progress in both 2006 and 2010. Only 10 states require a social-studies test to graduate from high school, according to the Education Commission of the States. . . .
A Center on Education Policy study found in 2007 that about 45% of elementary schools reported cutting time for other subjects to focus on math and reading. And only about one in three elementary teachers reported covering civics subjects on a regular basis, according to federal survey data taken in 2006 and 2010.

Proponents say enhancing civics instruction could help reverse low voter turnout—about one in five adults ages 18 to 29 voted in the 2014 midterms, according to researchers at Tufts University’s Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service—and address mounting frustration with dysfunction in Washington. They also say it can help increase engagement by minorities and the poor, who typically receive less civics education than more affluent and white students.

“There’s a stronger sense from people now that we must do something in order to be functional as a nation and at the community level,” said Meira Levinson, an associate professor of education at Harvard University who has studied civic-empowerment issues.

Meanwhile, coalitions in seven states have launched a growing movement to require students to pass the U.S. citizenship exam before they can graduate. By the end of next year, proponents aim to introduce and pass legislation in 12 to 15 states.

“So little has been done over so many years now, let’s make sure we take that one solid first step,” said Sam Stone, political director for the Civics Education Initiative, an affiliate of the Joe Foss Institute, a nonpartisan nonprofit based in Scottsdale, Ariz.

But some backers of more civics study doubt the value of the 100-question citizenship exam, arguing it is more about rote memorization than learning how to be a better citizen.

“This is addressing the right problem with the wrong solution,” said Ted McConnell, executive director of the Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools, a nonprofit that advocates for civic learning.

American high schools typically offered three classes in civics and government until the 1960s, according to Mr. McConnell’s group. More typical nowadays is an “American government” class that focuses on the structure of democracy more than the practicalities of making it work. Mr. McConnell said schools need more hands-on instruction now, not another test.

Some caution that jumping into civics instruction could invite teachers’ political biases into the classroom. “Teachers need training on how to lead discussions on controversial issues,” said Anna Saavedra, associate policy researcher for RAND Corp, a nonpartisan nonprofit, who supports greater attention to civics in the classroom. “There are ways for teachers to learn that, but it’s a learned skill.”

Only 15% of civics and government teachers surveyed in a 2013 national report from Tufts University’s Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service said they had been mentored or coached by an expert or administrator."

Summing Up

Here's my question --- Who will teach the teachers about our democratic freedoms and civic responsibilities?

And who will teach the teachers about the relationship of our free enterprise system to a free and prosperous society of equals?

Sadly, too many of us act as if an educated and informed citizenry aren't all that important to a free, successful and prosperous America.

And too many of us believe that a thriving and entrepreneurially oriented economy is over and belonged to an America that no longer exists.

The hard work and sacrifices of our Founders gave us this wonderful thing we call America.They took nothing for granted. Neither should we.

Let's teach our kids and grandkids a much needed civics lesson about what being a free and informed American really means, including the hard working part.

Both they and we will be glad we did.

That's my take.

Thanks. Bob.

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