Last night’s election has sent shockwaves not only through our nation, but also throughout the world. I have received messages and read social media posts from people ready to declare the end of the American Republic. I implore you to refrain from writing America’s eulogy. I will admit here that I did not vote for Donald Trump and have deep and genuine concerns regarding his respect for the rule of law and our nation’s constitutional form of government. But I am an optimist. I believe that America is bigger than a single election. I genuinely believe that our Constitution and our principles will endure if We The People devote ourselves to preserving them.
George Washington said during his first inaugural address “[T]he preservation of the sacred fire of liberty, and the destiny of the republican model of government, are justly considered as deeply, perhaps as finally staked, on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people.”
How do we preserve the sacred fire of liberty and our republican model of government? We have to make sure our nation’s citizens – of all ages – understand and value our nation’s Constitution.
I’ve said it before, but I will repeat this in brief here – I do not think it is coincidental that Donald Trump’s election to the White House coincides with a correspondent and troubling decline in civics education and knowledge.
Countless reports and studies confirm that American citizens of all ages lack a basic understanding of our nation’s history and form of government. A survey released last year by the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania found that –
- Only one in three Americans could name all three branches of the U.S. government, while just as many could not identify even one; and,
- And, I kid you not, about one in 10 Americans say the Bill of Rights includes the right to own a pet.
Additionally, across the nation, school boards and colleges and universities are cutting civics and history programs and young citizens are, as a result, losing the opportunity to study our nation’s Constitution and history. It should, therefore, be no surprise that, for example, only 23% of middle school students performed at or above proficient on the civics portion of the National Assessment of Educational Progress. We are not only failing to teach our citizens about U.S. history and the Constitution in primary and secondary school, but also in college.
And the organizations, like mine (www.ConSource.org), that are devoted to educating our nation’s citizens about civics and the Constitution face budget shortfalls as the government, private foundations and philanthropists have turned away from funding civics education.
And while the situation is dire, I want to emphasize that there is hope! And you can be a part of the solution. I hope I can count on many of you to help me and other civic education leaders as we seek to stem the tide and reverse the decline in civic knowledge and constitutional literacy. We know that citizens who receive effective civics education are better informed and participate in government and civil society at higher rates than their peers. We also know that these citizens also tend to be more optimistic about the future.
If you believe in America, and I think you do, now is the time to invest in educating our citizens about our Constitution and system of government.
John Jay wrote “I consider knowledge to be the soul of a republic, and as the weak and the wicked are generally in alliance, as much care should be taken to diminish the number of the former as of the latter. Education is the way to do this, and nothing should be left undone to afford all ranks of people the means of obtaining a proper degree of it at a cheap and easy rate.”
At the end of the Constitutional Convention, Benjamin Franklin was approached by a woman who asked him what sort of government the delegates had created. Franklin famously replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.”
Now’s the time to fight to keep it, folks. Let’s get to work. Being a citizen is a full-time job. It doesn’t begin and end on Election Day.
I’ve devoted my career to the promotion of civic knowledge and constitutional literacy and am part of an incredible community of others who have done the same. Will you join us? Our work has never been more important than it is now.