Civic Ignorance is No Conspiracy

Posted in Weekly Newsletter on by .

The United States Constitution on a wooden deskRetired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor was reported in last Friday’s Idaho Statesman to be worried about “civic ignorance,” and rightly so.

O’Connor cited research finding that two-thirds of Americans can’t name one sitting justice of the United States Supreme Court—the nine people who increasingly hold unchallenged sway over how we live our lives.

One in three Americans, she said, can name the three branches of government, and fewer than one in five eighth-graders can identify the purpose of the Declaration of Independence.

This is not new. Several years ago a specially assembled group of high school juniors and seniors, the cream of the crop, was told that the core purpose of the U.S. Constitution is not to say what individual citizens have a right to do, but rather to say what their government is forbidden to do.  An audible intake of breath indicated that some found this a radical challenge to cherished beliefs.

“That ignorance starts in the earliest years of a child’s schooling,” O’Connor said.

Actually ignorance starts at birth.  The problem is that no matter how much schooling people get, it often fails to remedy their ignorance.

Nevertheless we reject conspiracy theories about dumbing-down the populace to facilitate authoritarian government for the same reason we reject conspiracy theories generally: No conspiracy is necessary to yield the results we see over and over again. A simple surrender to human nature will suffice.   To teach something, you must know something, and this involves work.  Given the option to be lazy and face no important consequences, what would most of us do? This is a form of teaching in itself.

Give it five decades and widespread ignorance is guaranteed.

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