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Culture, Science & Faith

Cultivating Ignorance and Arrogance

The lack of civics education in our schools has produced the mess we face.

Arnold Ahlert · Feb. 8, 2016

“No nation is permitted to live in ignorance with impunity,” wrote Thomas Jefferson.

Millions of Americans remain puzzled by the legions of fellow citizens who would trade capitalism and exceptionalism for the siren song of “free” stuff proposed to varying degrees by Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton and, to some extent, Donald Trump. They shouldn’t be. A pernicious combination of civic illiteracy, coupled with a growing sense of entitlement, especially among Millennials, is rapidly approaching critical mass.

The American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) has released a sobering report regarding civic illiteracy. “The Crisis in Civic Education” reveals that numerous surveys show “recent college graduates are alarmingly ignorant of America’s history and heritage,” the report’s summary states. “They cannot identify the term lengths of members of Congress, the substance of the First Amendment, [or] the origin of the separation of powers. They do not know the Father of the Constitution, and nearly 10% say that Judith Sheindlin — ‘Judge Judy’ — is on the Supreme Court.”

This is no accident. ACTA surveyed more than 1,100 colleges and universities, and discovered that only 18% of them have course requirements in government or civics. High schools are equally deficient. A 2014 civics test administered by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) revealed that only 23% of high school seniors had “proficient” or better level of knowledge in civics, and a dismal 18% are at the same level with regard to history. Both percentages represented “no significant change” since 2010.

Moreover, as the Washington Examiner’s Eric Bledsoe explains, attempts to address civic deficiencies “conflate rhetoric with results. The Department of Education’s ‘A Crucible Moment’ and the Lumina Foundation’s ‘Degree Qualifications Profile (DQP)’ emphasize ‘civic engagement,’” amounting to “little beyond verbose abstraction.”

Yet perhaps the most devastating illustration of what is really occurring was revealed by Glen Fairman in a 2012 American Thinker column. Fairman recounts his time as a graduate student working as a substitute teacher at Puente High School in Southern California. One day he was assigned to cover a social studies class while the regular teacher was on a field trip. During that assignment he discovered a “set of thirty-year-old textbooks from the mid-1960s” whose contents “burned themselves into my brain.”

“As I flipped through the pages, I was astonished to find what I would now consider an upper-level college textbook under color of what in the high schools used to be termed ‘civics,’” he reveals. “This text contained a very detailed understanding of political theory, constitutional law, macroeconomics, American history, and comparative political systems. I spent the rest of the day in slack-jawed amazement, perusing what a student in a working-class town was expected to know before the mavens of education began tinkering with the curricula of our schools.”

That would be the overwhelmingly “progressive” mavens of education.

When he asked the returning instructor why those books were no longer in use, the instructor explained they were no longer comprehensible by the vast majority of students. When he asked other older teachers regarding whether education had been “dumbed-down,” he discovered “this question unleashed volatile diatribes on how dull children had become since the responders had begun as idealistic young men and women in the field.”

In short, what former President George W. Bush once referred to as the “soft bigotry of low expectations” has been institutionalized.

And not just at the high-school level. Fairman adds, “Campus speech codes and filtered curricula have denuded the classical goal of the acquisition of a free and analytic mind.”

Unfortunately, that is somewhat of an understatement. College campuses are now citadels of safe spaces, micro-aggressions, trigger warnings, and speech and sexual conduct codes, all designed with the purpose of teaching students what to think, not how to think. As historian Victor Davis Hanson so deftly explains, “[T]oday’s campuses mimic ideological boot camps” replete with tenured professors who “seek to indoctrinate young people in certain preconceived progressive political agendas,” and grade-conscious and indebted students willing to make the “necessary ideological adjustments” that ensure their survival. Those adjustments include embracing “the glories of larger government, income redistribution, greater entitlements, radical environmentalism, abortion, multiculturalism, suspicion of traditional religion, and antipathy to the international role of the United States in the past and present.”

In other words, every agenda you would find being championed at any Clinton campaign stop or “feel the Bern” rally.

Moreover, the so-called “college experience,” for which students and their parents have collectively borrowed more than $1 trillion to acquire — presumably on the premise that a better life awaits — is a fraud. As a Manhattan Institute report released this month reveals, only 52% of U.S. students who enroll in college graduate within six years, and 44% of graduates from four-year institutions are “under-employed.” Only one-third of enrollees graduate within six years and subsequently get jobs that require a college degree.

Still feeling the “Bern” of “free” college, much of which would be underwritten by taxpayers who never even sniffed the “hallowed” halls of academia? The very same struggling folks whose pockets the Left would pick to realize their faux-Utopian schemes?

If you’re a Millennial, the answer is a resounding “yes.” New York Magazine’s Eric Levitz, who believes Millennials should celebrate their self-entitlement, nonetheless points to a series of think pieces that speak to that generation’s miserable work ethic — “a rising generation spoiled past the point of employability, of a cohort so coddled, even offices replete with foosball tables and free snacks can’t cajole them to clock in on time.” Levitz cites the deadly combination of helicopter parents and participation trophies that engendered such attitudes — before ridiculously suggesting that self-entitlement “is the soil from which all political action grows,” including the civil rights movement, the Reagan revolution and the rise of Donald Trump.

More like conflating genuine political movements with the Millennials’ trademark spoiled-bratism. Levitz concludes, “If millennials feel entitled to a ‘high-energy, boundary-pushing workplace that not only recognizes true talent but also makes the world a better place,’ as the National Review so ruefully laments, maybe the problem isn’t Generation Y’s audacious expectations, but our political economy’s failure to meet them.”

In other words, America owes Millennials not only a living but a meaningful life.

Couple this “blame America” attitude to an audacious sense of self-entitlement, civic and historical illiteracy, and ideological insulation that embraces censorship of competing ideas. Is it any wonder why the siren song of big government, and living off the “unjustly” acquired wealth of others — promoted as “free” — resonates?

“An honest and comprehensive study of (America’s) history and constitution is the only guarantee of the cultivation of an informed electorate,” Bledsoe warns.

No doubt, but Bledsoe may be laboring under a false assumption. An informed electorate, and by extension a nation of people willing to both think and do largely for themselves, is utterly anathema to the big-government and collectivist ambitions of the American Left. Ambitions that require the “fundamental transformation of the United States of America” to be realized.

“I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents,” wrote James Madison, often referred to as the father of the Constitution. Of course, one would have to read the Constitution and Madison’s writings in order to discover that. One would also have to reject most of the Democrat Party’s current agenda, much of which is aided and abetted by a number of equally compromised Republicans who think the key to their party’s success lies in cultivating a similar level of ignorance and entitlement among their constituents.

More than 60% of Americans believe this country is heading down the wrong track. The 2016 election will likely determine if America has gone completely off the rails.

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