State News

Civics education

By Sen. Dick McCormack

Under our federal and state constitution, the United States is a republic. Each state is governed by republican principles as well. I suggest that for a republic to be a republic its citizens must be republican citizens, knowledgeable about republican principles, familiar with republican structures, committed to their duty as citizens of a republic.

Wide spread citizen ignorance is to a republic as the rotten wood wrapped in a tube of bark is to a dead birch tree.

It’s dismaying how little some folks actually know about the basics of our government such as the three branches of government, separation of powers, checks and balances, individual and minority rights. According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress only 23 percent of 8th graders are proficient in civics. Only 14 percent of high school seniors can name Thomas Jefferson as the author of the Declaration of Independence. A National Conference of State Legislatures Brief cites an Annenberg Public Policy Center finding that only a third of high school seniors interviewed could name the three branches of government.

It’s dismaying how much misinformation there is about our government. I’ve been told “the separation of church and state is unconstitutional because the Constitution says we’re one nation under God” actually it’s the Pledge of Allegiance, not the Constitution).  I’ve been told it’s unpatriotic to disagree with the president of the United States because “he’s our Commander in Chief.” (The president is the commander in chief of the Armed Forces. The American people have no commander in chief).

I am introducing a bill to require the study of civics for a high school diploma. As a Democrat I’m proud that Senate Republican Leader Joe Benning is co-sponsoring. I joke that we both support the bill because each of us is convinced that a better educated public is more likely to agree with him. But there’s a more profound reason. We Americans disagree all the time about many things. But we presumably agree on the basic structural rules of how we should disagree, on the principles that make us, Republicans and Democrats alike, Americans.

Dick McCormack is a Windsor County senator.

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