Saturday, June 18, 2011

Ignorance About the Declaration and Constitution

We are apt to assume that the American people not knowing the difference between the United States Constitution and the Declaration of Independence is strictly a contemporary problem, but it has existed at least for a few decades, and I am afraid that it is a much older problem than we think. Still, I believe that, say, fifty years ago, most high school graduates and certainly most college graduates knew the difference, while, according to a recent survey, only twelve percent of high school seniors are able to identify what those documents are. I doubt that today's college graduates could do much better.

Partly this might be explained by the fact that at one time fewer people graduated from high school let alone college; however, I do not think that can explain the difference in knowledge because I also believe that the rate of high school graduation has increased in some quarters from the 1930s to the present. Also, there was a push in the 1950s to teach American history with an emphasis on the founding. That push came to an end, however, by the 1970s.

American history is no longer being taught with the emphasis on things like the difference between the Constitution and the Declaration. I know that the documents are being taught in some school systems even at the elementary level, but I do not know for how long this has been so at those schools and whether this reflects a wider trend. Naturally, for any real understanding to develop, a subject must be taught at higher levels than the elementary. Second and third graders are not prepared to grasp very much about the meaning and context of these two documents. If they never hear about them again, they can be forgiven for not being able to tell the difference.

Those who cannot be forgiven for the ignorancve of our children and the adult citizens they become are the educators and, especially, those who decide what goes into the curriculum and text books and what is left out of them.

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