You Can’t Defend What You Don’t Understand: A Plea for Support of Civics Education

There is an often-told story that 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.”

To keep it, we must teach it. You cannot defend what you do not understand. And so in order for citizens to defend the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, they must first understand it.

James Wilson, a founding father from Pennsylvania, once said that “[l]aw and liberty cannot rationally become the objects of our love, unless they first become the objects of our knowledge.”

And, yet, 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 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. 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. The American Council of Trustees and Alumni found that only approximately 18.3% of colleges and universities require even a single foundational course in American government in history.

If you believe in defending the United States Constitution, then you also have to invest in civics education and constitutional literacy. You can help do this by investing in ConSource and other non-profits invested in promoting knowledge about the U.S. Constitution and our system of government.

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