It seems to be no secret, but lately a realization has begun to scare me. Americans are ignorant about their government. For those who may jump to conclusions that I am somehow insulting my own people as being stupid, you prove my point. Ignorance means lack of knowledge or information. While the majority of us have the capacity to understand and gain knowledge, many choose not to.
According to a 2009 report by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, “only 24 percent of college graduates know the First Amendment prohibits establishing an official religion for the United States.” Newsweek also challenged 1,000 Americans to take the U.S. citizenship test. 38% failed the test. The test, which questions takers on American government, history, civics and rights, asked only 10 questions. They are randomly chosen and you can miss four and still pass. 29% couldn’t name the vice president, 44% couldn’t define the Bill of Rights and 6% couldn’t find Independence Day on the calendar. Want to take a shot at the test?
What’s the big deal?
The truth is, ignorance is leading to the destruction of America; not only as a super power but as a nation altogether. Thomas Jefferson said, “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.”
If we as Americans do not understand even the basics of how our government is structured, then how can we choose our leaders effectively? And, how can we hold them accountable to their duties if we are unsure of what those duties are?
We have to be able to grasp how our nation was founded, and the mistakes that were made. The only way people, and nations, can evolve and grow is by learning. George Santayana wrote the famous quote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” This goes for learning from the successes and failures of others that came before us. Whether it is Rome, or England, or Soviet Union, nations and empires have risen and fallen over time. They are a treasure trove of knowledge and wisdom.
So why are Americans Ignorant?
I find in most people I talk to there are three main reasons that Americans are ignorant.
The first one is because they are apathetic. They show no feeling of interest, enthusiasm, or concern about their nation. In 2008, there were 231,229,580 people eligible to vote. Voter turnout that year was 132,618,580. That is 56.8%. Compare that to 2010, when eligible people rose to 235,809,266 but turnout shrunk to 90,682,968 (37.8%). Midterm elections may not seem as important as “The Presidency,” but if people realized the power of Congress, they would pay a lot more attention to choosing the people who represent them in our government.
I suspect if elections were reality TV shows, we could double interest. If viewers could tune in, not to see discussions of issues (you know, debates), but instead see their candidates doing silly games, getting tans, and bickering about who ate the last rice cake, then maybe people would care. American Idol, Survivor, Big Brother, Dancing with the Stars, Jersey Shore all do well with the American public. So we will dedicate our time to seeing someone else win a prize, but refuse to show interest in people who determine our future?
Another reason I find is that people are plain busy. With the state of the economy, those who can find jobs sometimes need 2 or 3 to make ends meet. There are kids to raise, meals to cook, bills to pay, after school activities, social gatherings, lawns to mow, and the list goes on. Government has become so large, and so complex, that the time necessary to research even one issue can be overwhelming. And the government has done a good job of trying to convince Americans to just sit back, live their life, and let them handle it all.
The final reason I find among voters, or potential voters, is discouragement. It’s the old saying of “my vote won’t matter.” No matter what we do, or who we vote for, all politicians are liars. The government will not listen to the people. I have no say. In truth, America has come to this by its own fault. As I just said above, we’ve fallen for the trap the government sold us. Sit back, live life, and we can trust them. By the time we realized we couldn’t, it was too late. It’s too big to fight (or so they feel).
So how do we fix it?
Get informed and stay informed.
In August of 1822, in a letter to W.T. Barry, former President James Madison warned, “a popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or, perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”
We have bragged that we now have so much technology that knowledge is at our fingertips. Within a few seconds, I can find almost any piece of information I want. From recipes, to gossip; from shopping, to international chatting. The “information superhighway” is in full swing, and only growing by leaps and bounds. But how many people have looked up the Constitution, or studied American History, or looked up their leaders and followed their stances on issues?
Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Freedom makes a huge requirement of every human being. With freedom comes responsibility. For the person who is unwilling to grow up, the person who does not want to carry his own weight, this is a frightening prospect.”
We are tasked as the defenders of freedom. This government was set up for “we the people” by the people. And if we fail to educate ourselves, then we will perish as many before us.
Take a class on government. Read the constitution. Find someone knowledgeable and ask questions. Read a blog or two. Read the headlines from multiple sources. It’s time to stand up for ourselves. The government has gotten out of control, and they no longer represent the interests of the citizens. Arm yourselves with truth and facts and no longer allow your vote and your opinion to be shoved under the carpet of bureaucracy.