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The Prescott Daily Courier | Prescott, Arizona

home : opinions : opinions November 20, 2014


1/30/2013 9:59:00 PM
Column: Knowledge produces good government
Richard F. (Buz) Williams
Courier Columnist

In March 2011, Newsweek conducted a poll which revealed that only 62 percent of their test group of Americans would pass a citizenship test.

A poll in November 2008 showed that more than twice as many Americans (56 percent) knew at the time that Paula Abdul was a judge on American Idol, than knew that the phrase "...government of the people, by the people and for the people..." came from Lincoln's Gettysburg Address (21 percent).

In 2007, the Pew Research Center did a study that showed that more Americans knew Peyton Manning (62 percent) and Beyonce Knowles (64 percent) than knew the Majority Leader in the U.S. Senate, Harry Reid (15 percent), the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi (49 percent) and the Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates (21 percent).

Indications in the Pew poll trended toward less political knowledge in most areas in the future. The purpose in showing these figures isn't to point out the historical and political ignorance of much of the American public, although they do that well enough, it is to show how the public's interests are more in entertainment and sports than government. I would guess that since the dawn of the first movie theater, the public's interests have been trending in this direction and with the mass infusion of entertainment and sports in every home, it is little wonder that this is occurring.

Politicians help themselves very little with continuous scandals, crony capitalism, multi-thousand-paged bills that are so hard to understand that they "must be passed so we can find out what's in them."

Our Founding Fathers put a great deal of emphasis on education. Our founding documents are short, to the point and relatively easy to understand. Is civics still a required class in high school? It should be. Is American history still required in high school? The above polls would indicate that they are either not taught or at least not emphasized. No one should be able to graduate from high school without a minimum basic understanding of the way our government works. A high school graduate should be able to name the three branches of the government, what each branch does, the minimum requirements to hold each office and what "checks and balances" are.

The Declaration of Independence, The Constitution of the United States and all 27 Amendments take up less than 50 pages. Couldn't this be taught in one semester in the senior year and still have enough time to teach about how the state government works? Isn't this a fundamental duty we owe our children so they can vote intelligently? It's a safe bet that more high school students can name the current Dancing with the Stars contestants than can name their Congressman.

Knowledge of the way our government works is a precaution against corruption. It is a safeguard against the doubletalk politicians emit to confuse their constituents on the way they voted or why they voted against the will of the people. Knowledge tears down the shields politicians erect to keep from taking a stand on controversial issues.

How many people in the general population, let alone high school or college students know that the president can't declare war; only Congress can declare war. Yet, since World War II, we've had more than 100,000 of our service men and women killed and hundreds of thousands injured in undeclared wars in Korea, Viet Nam, Iraq and Afghanistan. If it is worth risking the lives of the citizen soldiers, sailors and airmen, then it ought to be required of our elected officials that they take a position to declare war or oppose it. No equivocation. Presidents, senators and congressmen on both sides of the aisle don't want to do that. It puts them on the record much more so than voting for a "police action."

Now is the time to reeducate our citizenry, so that we can hold our elected officials to their sworn duty. Every elected federal official takes an oath of office to "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States" or "support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic."

How can we the people hold them to the oaths that they take if we know more about TMZ trivia, NFL stats or NASCAR winners than we know about our own Constitution?

Buz Williams is a retired Long Beach, Calif., police officer who has lived in Prescott since 2004.


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Reader Comments

Posted: Saturday, February 02, 2013
Article comment by: OPEN BOOK NEEDS

to be more of a closed book sometimes. Can't be right all the time.

Posted: Saturday, February 02, 2013
Article comment by: Attentive Listener

@Moral Compass- Actually, it wouldn't suprise me if younger people knew more than their elders about civics as about many other things, the reason being that they have been in school more recently. Basically everyone in America at some point in their lives learned algebra. Nevertheless, I bet if you tested them on finding the equation of a line given two points, they would perform poorly. It would not suprise me at all if people aged 20 and below performed better because they had learned it more recently. Similar with civics. This brings up a broader point: perhaps it isn't that people don't learn enough civics in high school that is the problem, but that they don't use or think about it enough in their daily lives. That question gets us in really deep water: how do you get Americans to live conscientious lives where they actually think about the things they have learned and how their own experiences fit in with the larger narrative of society, rather than just watching American Idol?

However, I do not agree with your point about Buz failing to do his homework. He asked whether high school civics was still a required class immediately before stating that the poll data suggests that either it is not or it is not emphasized, indicating that the question was rhetorical, because he answered it himself. The poll data is national, not Arizona only, and covers a larger age group than those attending high school in the last six years, so what Arizona has done for the past six years would not really speak to the poll data Buz cites even if the question were not rhetorical. To my judgment, he makes no outlandishly unsubstantiated claims in this editorial.



Posted: Friday, February 01, 2013
Article comment by: Moral Compass

Buz did not do his homework for this column. He asks "Is civics still a required class in high school? It should be. Is American history still required in high school? The above polls would indicate that they are either not taught or at least not emphasized."

A quick check of the Arizona Department of Education website will show that Civics is a required subject for graduation as is American History.

Further, there are specific state standards in Civics that require knowledge that Buz claims "are not emphasized" such as this one: Concept 2: Structure of Government PO 2. Analyze the creation of United States Constitution:
a. representative
government as
developed by the Great
Compromise and the
Three-Fifths
Compromise
b. Federalism
c. Separation of
Powers/Checks and
Balances
d. Judicial Review
e. Amendment Process

While I agree that knowledge of our government is woefully lacking among the general populace, civics has been a required subject in Arizona schools for at least 6 years (the date of the last revision to the standards). Perhaps Buz should talk to some younger people and find out what they know--he might be surprised.


Posted: Friday, February 01, 2013
Article comment by: Cordes Coyote

Open Book is right. When one generation bashes the next, all they are really saying is that they did a lousy job raising their kids.

Posted: Friday, February 01, 2013
Article comment by: open book

To OPEN BOOK is Wrong Again: Your comment as it is isn't very helpful to me. Would you kindly give a wee bit more information about where I went wrong, and even give some information that you would regard as correct? Thanks.

Posted: Friday, February 01, 2013
Article comment by: Knowledge Is Not What We Need In government

We have enough knowledge in our politicians, who have attended college, we need honesty and people who actually care about this country. Knowledge without action is meaningless.

Posted: Friday, February 01, 2013
Article comment by: OPEN BOOK Is Wrong Again

@Open book-Once again you are "assuming" and are very wrong. I think you just like to read your own fiction.

Posted: Friday, February 01, 2013
Article comment by: Attentive Listener

Good editorial, Buz. Seriously, you really raised the bar on this one. You obviously did some homework and as a result the piece is well-researched, well-reasoned, and thought-provoking.

As to your point, I wholeheartedly believe that the only thing that is going to save this country's future is education, and that civics are an important part of that. We may disagree on which other things are important, but I think compromise is within reach. I think that many of the so-called failures of the school system are actually parental failures, but today's kids are tomorrow's parents so we have to start somewhere. My biggest fear for our education system is how it has become politicized and can be manipulated by parents demanding special treatment for their youngsters. And of course, funding.


Posted: Friday, February 01, 2013
Article comment by: Extremist Noise Hides True Purpose

@ Tom Von Deck, auctions masquerading as elections...

I like that, and it gives a better meaning to Buzz's notion of 'crony capitalism', which is laden with political connotation.


Posted: Friday, February 01, 2013
Article comment by: Hobbes2 aka Sam Brunstein

TO: Buz

Who wrote: Knowledge produces good government

You are right.


Posted: Thursday, January 31, 2013
Article comment by: open book

Education is a noble thing. Insulting everyone who does not vote as you do, not so much.

To the person who claims to have lived over six decades and derides everyone under 35: Did you have children? Do you take any responsibility for their upbringing? Blaming young people for all of the ills you think you see is really blaming yourself for your bad parenting job. Take responsibility and quit whining.


Posted: Thursday, January 31, 2013
Article comment by: 18 Today Is Like 10.......

Considering that you only have to be 18 in this country to vote, it's sad to see that most 18 year olds act more like 10. They are not knowledgeable enough of life or politics. Too immature and not enough life experience to even elect a president, Most don't even graduate from high school or work. Their whole life seems to be on the high-tech toys their parents provide. How many even read a book today.

Posted: Thursday, January 31, 2013
Article comment by: Why? OH Why........

would anyone with common sense want to elect Obama for President? Why?

Posted: Thursday, January 31, 2013
Article comment by: Really .

@ Tongue-in-Cheek .:

"BUT they obviously STILL vote as morons."

Translated: they obviously don't vote the way I think they should.

"It is indeed disheartening to learn that someone who voted only recognizes one name on a ticket via popular name recognition, yet their vote weighs just as much as mine..."

Translated: I'm disheartened because other people have the same rights that I do. I should be granted 'super-citizen' status whereas my right supercedes all others. I'm also angry because more people voted for the other guy.

"Doubly worse are those who profess to study all the candidates, policies and principles and STILL vote like a bonehead because "they say" there was ONE REASON they liked the candidate they voted for."

People don't listen to me, therefore I hate them and think they are all big STUPIDHEADS!

Compelling stuff.


Posted: Thursday, January 31, 2013
Article comment by: Tongue-in-Cheek .

There are those among us, on this vary thread, that profess to be educated on government, the constitution, etc.,etc., BUT they obviously STILL vote as morons. It is indeed disheartening to learn that someone who voted only recognizes one name on a ticket via popular name recognition, yet their vote weighs just as much as mine when I have spent months studying all the candidates. Doubly worse are those who profess to study all the candidates, policies and principles and STILL vote like a bonehead because "they say" there was ONE REASON they liked the candidate they voted for. I think is was Thomas Jefferson that said, "YOU CAN'T FIX STUPID". What the Mayan's couldn't predict correctly, we Americans appear to want a try at it.

Posted: Thursday, January 31, 2013
Article comment by: Funny Stuff

Who is this Tom Steele? Tom, the free enterprise system as you call it is destroying the commons.
What they should be teaching kids is to think freely outside the current system, because it is not, and never will be sustainable.. We are a dying empire and we need fresh ideas that puts our species on parity with mother earth. It may take a generation or two, but if people who think like Tom Steele and Buz for that matter have their say, they will drive us off a catastrophic species ending cliff.


Posted: Thursday, January 31, 2013
Article comment by: A CLUELESS SOCIETY

Having lived for over six decades, I can say this under 35 yrs and under generation is totally clueless to the realities of today. This became clear when Obama was re-elected. They are too busy with their face pressed against either a computer, IPAD, cell-phone, video games or sitting on a couch watching senseless reality shows and liberal journalism. ad to think they will actually be in charge of our country in the future. We have raised a generation of clueless children.

Posted: Thursday, January 31, 2013
Article comment by: Can't Wait

We're about one year away from financing Obamacare - when all the apathetic, TV-watching-zombies, will need to get out their checkbooks (many for the first time ever) and cut a check for $2k or so to the IRS for their "coverage."

Maybe. Maybe then - when the funds aren't withheld and never seen but an actual check needs to be cut, will a REAL Tea Party movement by the masses take wing.

One can only hope...


Posted: Thursday, January 31, 2013
Article comment by: An American

The title of this article could not be more correct. And lack of knowledge produces the government we have now........ No suprise that the government wants to control the curriculum in schools, sheep are much easier to herd than independent thinkers..

Posted: Thursday, January 31, 2013
Article comment by: Tom Steele

Younger people learn very little of our free enterprise system or our government in schools. Then they hit college and are faced with Marxist professors who fill their empty heads with progressive thought. This must be corrected by law in all the states.

Posted: Thursday, January 31, 2013
Article comment by: Tom Von Deck

True dat. People seem to be disillusioned about government and politics. People who feel like they have no power anyway are going to take less interest. There's a growing wealth gap (read power gap) that adds to this plus empty promises, auctions masquerading as elections and the heavily rehearsed circuses called debates. After voting, many folks don't see much difference in their lives. Our two main parties are also aristocrat parties. It's a very wealthy country overall, and it's very hard to starve. In some nations most people, rich or poor, have more of a stake in election outcomes. There's less likely to be an issue of voting for Tweedledee and Tweedledum in those cases.



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