Sunday, March 25, 2018

“Could You Pass a Civics Test?”

"Washington Crossing the Delaware" by Emanuel Leutze

            The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines civics as “the study of the rights and duties of citizens and of how government works.” Civics was taught in both public and private schools for decades, but appears to have dropped off the radar screen in recent years. Sadly, the general public seems to be fairly deficient in knowledge of our government, how it works and our history. Jesse Watters on Fox News in a segment called “Watters’ World’ for years interviewed people on the street, asking very basic questions like “Which happened first- the American Revolution or the Civil War?” As hard as this may be to believe, some people got this one wrong. Thomas Jefferson maintained that being an educated citizen, well informed on the important topics of the day was critical in keeping our republic functioning. He would be stunned that many people today do not know even the most basic things which he and the other Founding Fathers helped put in place to form the country and governmental system we enjoy. Here are five “test” questions to determine if you could pass a civics test (answers at the end):

1)      What second war did America fight against England, after the American Revolution?

2)      Who were the first three Presidents of the United States?

3)      During what years was the American Civil War fought?

4)      Who was the longest serving U.S. President?

5)      What transaction, arranged under Thomas Jefferson, doubled the size of the United States?

            Understanding the important events in our history is just one part of being a well-informed citizen. Knowing how our government works is equally important. As Watters revealed on his television segment, many Americans don’t know the most basic things which helped to form the foundation for our republic. Some people do not know that the U.S. Constitution- not the Declaration of Independence- forms the framework for our democracy. If people don’t know what the basic founding documents stand for, how can they hope to successfully navigate the twists and turns of modern society, especially if they are confronted with a legal challenge of some sort?

            Some people today when they think of “Civics” feel they’re ranking their favorite type of Honda. With the multitude of electronic diversions- video games, cell phones, I-pads and the internet, it is no wonder that many young people (those under the age of 25) have chosen to spend more time watching or engaging with their favorite toy rather than learning about the system of government and its history which now allows them to enjoy those same pleasures. Many millions in North Korea would likely be thrilled to have access to those diversions, but are prevented from doing so by their government.

            It is ironic that some of the best informed people in America are newly formed citizens. A quick look at sample questions on the citizenship exam shows that those who aspire to become citizens must understand quite a bit about our government and our heritage. It’s a good bet that many of those people interviewed by Jesse Watters on the street would fail this same test. It is perhaps even more shocking that a sizable percentage of kids graduating from high schools across America would also get low marks on this exam. This is both sad and disturbing, because many of them take for granted what millions of people yearn for coming to this nation from around the world, to be part of this dream we call America.

ANSWERS: 1) The War of 1812, 2) George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, 3) 1861- 1865, 4) Franklin D. Roosevelt (elected to four terms, served just over three; a later Amendment to the Constitution allowed only two terms for all Presidents), 5) the Louisiana Purchase.

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