Thursday, November 13, 2003

Farewell To Democracy?

There are times when I genuinely fear for the future. Not so much for mine (as I am already older than dirt), but for my children's, who are very soon going out into the world. The expression "the barbarians are at the gate" seems a bit dated now. The truth is, the barbarians are already within the gates and those gates have been smashed into faggots for their campfires while they sit in front of their dung-encrusted yurts.

Jefferson and the other framers of the constitution fervently believed that it would take a well-informed and educated populace to make democracy work. The idea of civic education was that to survive in an often hostile world as well as to keep our democracy vibrant, free Americans had not only to be materially successful but also had to learn in the very first years of school those self-evident truths on which our unique country rests—unlike almost all other nations, which are founded on a shared race, religion, or birthplace. By teaching each generation the nature of elected government, the singularity of Western freedom, and the importance of consensual law, we hoped to evade the capriciousness of tyranny and offer a refuge to those who sought freedom from tyranny.

Our educational system has deteriorated to such an extent that according to The Polling Company, Washington, D.C., the average American is unable to identify even a single department within the president's Cabinet.

The survey of 800 adults found that a majority (58%) could use a refresher course in Civics 101, to say the least.

When prompted, they could not provide any departmental names whatsoever (41% could). Only 4% of those surveyed specified five or more of the 19 executive-level posts.

Is this proof that Americans are getting dumber? Perhaps not. Last year, The Polling Company determined that almost two-thirds (64%) of Americans could not offer up the name of even one Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Some lowlights of its most recent study:

. War: What is it good for? Rote learning, apparently. The Department of Defense was the most recognized among all 19 Cabinet departments, with 23% identifying it by name.

. The Department of Treasury (14%), the Department of State (13%), the newly created Department of Homeland Security (12%) and the Department of Interior (11%) rounded out the top five responses volunteered.

. No respondent named all 19 departments correctly and only 1% were able to name 11 or more within the President's Cabinet.

. The majority of members in some demographic groups failed to specify a single agency or department.

Hispanics (79%), African Americans (75%), 18-34 year-olds (70%) and women (68%) were among the consumers most likely to say "I don't know" when asked to name at least one department within the current Cabinet.

. Slightly more than half of the men surveyed (52%) could name at least one department, while less than one-third of women (32%) were able to do the same.

Sobering isn't it?


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