The government we deserve
I look at the mess the federal government and most state governments are in and wonder how in the heck we got into such a dilemma. The obvious answer would be that our elected leaders have screwed up beyond belief. To some extent that is true, of course, but a more accurate reason for the predicament we are in is that the electorate not only elected these clowns to begin with, but has continued to reelect them time and time again.
Thomas Jefferson is credited with saying, “The government you elect is the government you deserve.” Truer words were never written.
Some try to excuse the voters by claiming that the mainstream media does a very poor job presenting them with the facts. To some extent that is true, but the reality is that the information is out there and available to any citizen who wishes to be informed. Sadly, way, way, too many don’t care to be.
The fault, I believe, is with the dismal state of the social studies curriculum in schools. For nearly 40 years I saw firsthand how poorly history was covered. Lately, it has gotten only worse. The No Child Left Behind emphasis on reading and math scores has taken even more time away from social studies. Now, the Obama administration’s emphasis about the importance of science is taking even more away from social studies.
Don’t get me wrong. Math and science are important, but only a tiny fraction of our students will become mathematicians or scientists. All our students, well, at least those here legally, will become eligible voters.
A Marist poll in July 2010 asked, “On July 4th we celebrate Independence Day. From which country did the United States win its independence?” Only 74 percent of those questioned answered correctly and just 60 percent of those ages 18-29. Yet these are the people who can elect our leaders. Columnist Thomas Sowell said it best when he wrote, “Without a sense of responsible citizenship, voters can elect leaders who are not merely incompetent or corrupt, but even leaders with contempt for the constitutional limitations on government power that preserve the people’s freedom.”
We already have far too many elected officials who are guilty of a weak understanding of our history. Our vice president, the self-described smartest man in the room, told us in 2008 that when the stock market crashed in 1929, President Franklin D. Roosevelt went on national TV and put the public’s fears to rest. Of course, Roosevelt wasn’t sworn in as president until 1933, and television didn’t come into wide use until the 1950s. FDR’s “fireside chats” were broadcast by radio. And this man is one heartbeat away from being the leader of the free world.
The current leader of the free world seems similarly clueless.
A June 2009 column in National Review by historian and syndicated writer Victor Davis Hanson listed many of his concerns about President Barack Obama’s understanding of history and cavalier approach to historical facts. Since then he could have added dozens of more examples, including the president’s inaccurate description of Arizona’s much maligned immigration law.
So what can be done about electing more responsible leaders, people who have some sense of history and our Constitution? Ideally, some kind of voter literacy test, similar to the citizenship test immigrants must pass to become citizens, would help. In reality, such an idea would never be implemented, because, for starters, it would risk the reelection of too many current politicians.
What can and should be done is to reform how schools teach social studies. First, it ought to be recognized that one of the most important goals of education is to produce good citizens. Citizens who will make good decisions. In elementary schools, where such a foundation is laid, teachers seldom get through the entire social studies text.
One way to improve this situation would be to use historical fiction as the reading curriculum. Well-researched historical fiction can help children realize that social studies is not boring; it is the story of people.
Second, the political correctness of texts needs to be addressed. Inaccurate history is not history. Sadly, too many teachers, at all levels, are historically challenged or extremely slanted in their historical point of view. As Sgt. Friday in “Dragnet” would say, “Just the facts, ma’am. Just the facts.” School administrators should work to make sure this is the way history is taught.
This is not a quick fix. It will take time. Hopefully, in 10 or 20 years more than 60 percent of young voters will know that we won our independence from England.