Culture, Science & Faith

Civic Virtue? One State Gets It Right!

The blame lies with leftist indoctrination in America's classrooms.

Jan. 5, 2015

After generations of civic education neglect, Americans’ sense of civic virtue is in serious decline, and for good reason: Most young people have no sense of civic responsibility. “I don’t see any recovery,” said Rutgers University Professor Cliff Zukin. “The people who were 40 two decades ago aren’t as engaged as the people who were 60 two decades ago. This generational slippage tends to continue.”

In a recent poll similar to one conducted in 1984, Americans were asked about six civic-oriented activities: voting, volunteering, jury service, reporting crimes, knowing English and keeping on top of news and public issues. Only voting and volunteering were embraced as enthusiastically as they were 30 years ago, yet even those numbers are not particularly encouraging. Only 28% of Americans consider volunteering a “very important obligation.” And while 75% characterize voting a central obligation of citizenship, talk is cheap: Voter turnout in the last presidential election dipped to 57.5% of eligible citizens compared to 62.3% in 2008.

Voter turnout in 2014? The 36.4% of eligible citizens who bothered to vote represented the lowest turnout in any election cycle since World War II.

Most Americans do feel some sense of duty to the nation, with 90% characterizing the reporting of a crime one has witnessed, voting in elections, knowing English and serving on a jury when called as “somewhat important” obligations of citizenship. And a majority of Americans consider them “very important” obligations. Yet with an exception for voting, those majorities have declined by an average of approximately 13 percentage points over the last three decades.

Leading the pack in the decline are adults under 30 years of age. In every category except volunteering, they were less likely than elder generations to see any obligation, and also felt less obligated than young people of the past. Even more ominously, nearly one in four feel no obligation to keep informed, volunteer or speak English.

Scott Keeter, director of survey research at the Pew Research Center, suggests one possibility for the decline. “There are a lot of arguments about how our society has shifted toward a rights focus instead of an obligation focus,” he explains – even as he remains relatively unconcerned, adding, “It’s a little early to pull the alarm bells about the demise of our civic culture.”

No, it’s not. And while a rights focus versus an obligation focus may account for some of the decline, the 800-pound gorilla is far more obvious: The American Left has virtually removed the concept of American exceptionalism from the classroom, and cheapened the concept of citizenship itself. With few exceptions, like Arizona, which is the first state in the nation to require that high school students pass the U.S. citizenship test in order to graduate, civic education requirements have been scrubbed from government school curriculums. Every state in the union should be on board with civics education – but the notion of civic duty is antithetical to the Left’s academic agenda.

With regard to exceptionalism, the New York Post explains that the teaching of civics has been “largely abandoned” in today’s public schools, and according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which bills itself as “the largest nationally representative and continuing assessment of what America’s students know and can do in various subject areas,” those students are less proficient in American history than in any other subject.

Furthermore, what little history they do learn has been twisted to conform to the leftist agenda. As we reported in July, the College Board, the company responsible for the SAT exams and a number of Advanced Placement (AP) exams, has radically redesigned American history curricula to dispense with such things as learning about our nation’s Founders. Mark Alexander noted, “The College Board, which sets the curriculum-testing bar, makes only two references to George Washington, one to Thomas Jefferson, and nowhere to be found are Benjamin Franklin and James Madison, among others.” In their place, students will learn about class, race and gender wrongs.

One such example is that set by the cities of Seattle and Minneapolis, where Columbus Day has been kicked to the curb in favor of “Indigenous People’s Day” – in all its grievance-mongering glory.

Thus the obvious question arises: Why would one be expected to feel a sense of civic virtue toward a nation one either knows little about, or has been taught to view with contempt?

As for cheapening citizenship, what could be more obvious than the Left’s obsession with granting many of its privileges to illegal aliens? Once again California leads the way, as illegal aliens can now get driver’s licenses in that state beginning this year. Not to be outdone, the New York City Council is considering a bill to allow non-citizens to vote in municipal elections. That follows Mayor Bill de Blasio’s signing of a bill last July providing municipal ID cards to city “residents,” regardless of immigration status, beginning this year. De Blasio also signed a bill in November barring the city from alerting federal authorities to illegals in city custody and subject to deportation proceedings, except in rare cases.

And last, but certainly not least, Barack Obama unilaterally decided he will not enforce immigration law against five million illegal aliens – illegals who have and will compete with American citizens for jobs, and many of whom already receive government services, including welfare and Medicaid.

And legal immigrants who were once expected to assimilate into America’s “melting pot” society have been told to “celebrate their differences,” which goes a long way toward explaining the reluctance to learn English.

The concerted effort to tarnish the civic pride that American exceptionalism engenders, coupled with the effort to denigrate citizenship itself – which is exactly what creating politically motivated exemptions for lawbreakers represents – are all the explanation necessary as to why civic virtue is in decline.

In the same 1961 speech in which Democrat President (and leftist icon) John Kennedy uttered the words “ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country,” he also told the nation that “[w]e dare not forget today that we are the heirs of that first [American] revolution.” Six years later, Ronald Reagan made it clearer in his inaugural address as California governor: “Freedom is a fragile thing and is never more than one generation away from extinction.” Civic virtue and the obligations of citizenship cannot be separated from the preservation of freedom. We allow their continued deterioration at our own peril.

Barack Obama, who should be the national model for civic virtue but is anything and everything but, is touring countryside with his entourage promoting “Free Community College” for everyone. What he should be promoting is government school curriculums which provide young people a strong civic education early, and high schools which provide skills which will enable those graduating to actually find work.

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