Can we be trusted with democracy? I'm starting to conclude that we can't, that we don't care enough, or know enough, to be trusted with our remarkable form of government.
An Annenberg Report found that less than one-third of eighth-graders knew the purpose of the Declaration of Independence, and that only one-third of Americans could name all three branches of government. Sad. No, absolutely tragic.
Bruce Thornton of the Hoover Institute wrote, "The American people are not informed or smart enough for democracy," and "the masses are driven by their passions or private short-term interests." Yep. It's no wonder then that our federal government is in the chaotic, gridlocked state it's in.
I remember watching the news with my parents, way back in the bad old days when there were just three television stations. Walter Cronkite was our guy — authoritative and trusted, an objective source of news. We believed him.
Today, amid a plethora of news and opinion in the media, Americans appear to avoid sources of news that disagree with their personal opinion. Taking news from our social media feeds only worsens this problem.
"Civics" education used to be a standard part of American public education. In the '60s it was absorbed into history curricula. I was an elementary school student when this happened. I was sad about it then; I'm sadder about it now.
Civics teaches the rights and obligations of citizenship. It teaches us to listen to all sides of a question, to know what is going on in the world, and to rely on more than one news source. It teaches us how government works, how laws change, and the importance of our role in that process as voters — or in running for office ourselves. Civics teaches us how to debate both sides of a question, have respect and empathy for those who disagree with us, and ultimately how to negotiate compromise.
The politics of division, low voter turnout, and D.C. gridlock are symptoms of our ignorance.
Can we please begin talking about bringing Civics back into public school classrooms?
Karen Muriello is a longtime Oak Park resident.
Answer Book 2019
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