by Joseph P. Tartaro,
Civic ignorance threatens American liberty, according to an article by Deroy Murdock published just before July Fourth. Murdock is a senior fellow with the Atlas Economic Research Foundation and a policy adviser to the libertarian Cato Institute.
As evidence of his claim, Murdock cited several surveys reported over the past two years.
The future of American liberty rests in the hands of young people more familiar with the Three Stooges than the three branches of government, Murdock began. According to a 1998 Luntz Research survey, 59% of 13- to 17-year-olds identified Moe, Larry and Curly while only 41% correctly cited the legislative, executive and judicial branches.
As America celebrates 224 years of independence, one wonders if this nations citizens are equipped to defend their freedoms against the states natural penchant for mischief. The evidence should make you drop your hamburger.
The National Constitution Center recently interviewed 1,000 adults and found that 24% cannot name a single right guaranteed by the First Amendment. Only 6% can cite freedoms of speech, press, assembly and religion. Fifty-two percent do not know the Senate has 100 members. One in six believes the Constitution created a Christian nation.
Even well-educated adults seem confused about Americas experiment in limited self-government, Murdock continued. The Rev. Joan Brown Campbell of the National Council of Churches explained during the Elian Gonzalez saga that Juan Miguel Gonzalez planned to simply ask now that the attorney general issue a court order and that the boy be returned immediately to him. Neither Campbell nor Brian Knowltons April 13 International Herald Tribune story observed that attorneys general may not issue court orders any more than judges may prosecute suspects.
Unaware of what the Constitution entails, Murdock wrote, affluent and disengaged Americans seem rather comfortable with a kind of elective monarchy. Every four years, they pick a king who governs largely as he wishes. Members of Congresslike an American House of Lordsbreezily conduct their own affairs. The two divisions of the royal family occasionally cooperate, usuallybut not alwayswithin the law. Every other November, Americans decide which among them may keep their orbs and scepters and continue ruling at their whim.
In August 1993, for instance, a Democratic Congress approved Bill Clintons proposed hikes in top income and estate tax rates retroactive to Jan. 1, 1993, despite the Constitutions explicit instruction that No bill of attainder or ex post facto law shall be passed. Indeed, Clintons measure actually raised taxes on moneys earned during the final days of the Bush Administration, before Clintons inauguration!
After the Senate Judiciary Committee failed to approve Justice Department nominee Bill Lann Lee, Clinton defiantly named him acting assistant attorney general in December 1997. Lee serves today as Americas most powerful squatter, without constitutionally-required Senate confirmation, Murdock pointed out.
Americas public cluelessness begins in schools that teach little about English and the sciences and less about government.
Nearly 80% of seniors at 55 top colleges and universitiesincluding Harvard and Princetonreceived a D or F on a 34-question, high-school level American history test that contained historical references, according to Associated Press.
More than a third of the students surveyed in the December 1999 poll didnt know the Constitution established the division of power in American government, according to the Center for Survey Research and Analysis at the University of Connecticut, which administered the test as part of a study to measure the teaching of American history.
The test was given by telephone to 556 college seniors chosen at random. The questions were drawn from a basic high school curriculum and many had been used in the National Assessment of Education Program tests given to high school students.
Students were much more knowledgeable about popular culture. But only 23% identified James Madison as the principal framer of the Constitution.
The study, sponsored by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, found none of the 55 colleges require American history for graduation. And 78% of the schools dont require students to take any history classes.
In another study reported by Associated Press out of Chicago, 41% of teen-agers surveyed said they could get a handgun if they really wanted to, but the vast majority believe there are too many guns in society.
Teens by a 3-1 ratio believe there are too many guns in America, according to the study, intended for use in a program that sends teens into schools and community centers to talk about guns.
The survey also found that teens are more likely to believe that gun violence wont happen in their community. But more than 58% said they werent afraid that gun violence might happen in my school.
But, the news is not all bad. For example, a group of fifth-grade students in South Jordan, UT, held a mock trial and delivered a unanimous decisionthat adults with concealed firearm permits should be permitted to have guns in schools, according to WorldNetDaily.com.
Students at the school have conducted mock trials for the past seven years, selecting the topic from a list of several presented to them. The students asked members of the community to participate in the trial and to offer testimony on the subject of guns in schools.
Students took part as attorneys, judge and bailiff, while the rest of the class members served as the jury.
Rep. Merrill Cook (R-UT) told the young jurors that he did not personally want teachers to have firearms in school, but he also did not want to deny them their right to carry a firearm if that is their choice and if they have a concealed firearm permit.
Janalee Tobias, the founder of Women Against Gun Control, also testified at the trial. Tobias spoke as a mother, and said she was concerned about violence in schools, telling the students, I want my kids to be protected.
Three gun control advocates who want all guns banned from schools testified. Among them was PTA President KaRynn Christensen, who spoke in direct opposition to Tobias. She told the students that as a mother, she was concerned that a teacher with a gun might suddenly use it on a student.
In the end, the student jurors declared Cook and Tobias the winners in a unanimous decision.
Further evidence that there are young people prepared to be responsible citizens, if not leaders, in the future came across my desk as an e-mail from Jonathan Krull of Cuba, NY.
Krull has been home-schooled all his life and turned 16 in June.
He e-mailed several people an original commentary on how the shooting sports will be affected by this years presidential election, and urged people to support Alan Keyes as the only good choice for vice president on the Republican ticket with George W. Bush.
Krulls article is extremely well writtenin many respects reflecting greater writing skills than many already employed in the media. It reflects mature analysis of Keyes positions, with quotes from Keyes speeches on the right to keep and bear arms.
Noting that Keyes is a black Catholic who would help balance the GOP ticket and attract minorities, conservatives, right-to-life and libertarian voters, young Krull urges gunowners to phone, write, fax or e-mail the Bush headquarters.
Whether or not the GOP leaders would accept Krulls argument is beside the point of my column. What is relevant is that he, like the students who conducted the mock trial at the Utah school, are living proof that our future generations have much more to offer and may be better prepared for leadership than many older Americans might suspect.
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