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Axar.az presents the article “Back To School” by John Samuel Tieman.
A survey by the Annenberg Public Policy Center finds that only 1 in 3 Americans can name the three branches of our federal government. 20% can't name any. 27% believe that the Constitution allows the president to ignore a Supreme Court ruling. Only 55% know that a 5-4 Supreme Court decision must be followed. “The Atlantic” reports that 30% of Americans cannot tell whether the Civil War preceded or followed the Revolution. The United States is becoming a nation oppressed by its own ignorance. How can the republic function if its citizens cannot make informed decisions? We need to go back to school.
Our nation today is profoundly divided. It is helpful to recall that, in 1776, Benjamin Franklin's own son, William, was the Loyalist governor of New Jersey. 20% of the country favoured the British monarchy. Another 25% were neutral. Taken as a whole, that's almost half the country. The Founders' immediate strategy was to defeat the Loyalists, and convert the fence-sitter. But these were short term goals. The long game was aimed at the children.
From the very beginning of our nation, civic education was considered foundational for the maintenance of a democratic republic. The simple reason was that an educated electorate was an absolute necessity. Our first attempt at educational reform was the common school movement. What was common was that everyone got an identical education. The education was literate, indeed literary, with a bit of arithmetic and a lot of republicanisms.
Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration Of Independence, believed that children should "be instructed in all the means of promoting national prosperity and independence." Rush wanted free schools in every settlement with 100 or more families. The nation would become "one great and enlightened family." These schools would ingrain the republicanism that could create a national character and a united country. And they did.
The results were positive and negative, successful and brutal. One explicit goal was the assimilation of immigrants, freed Blacks, and Native Americans. Toward any culture that was not white, Anglo-Saxon, and Protestant, the attitude was that there was little worth saving. As just one example, languages other than English were suppressed. For all its brutality, there was the promise that assimilation brought economic security through equal opportunity. The common schools didn't solve racism. In some ways, they made it worse. However, the schools thoroughly inculcated republicanism. By the late 1890s, a century after the Revolution, monarchy seemed more quaint than threatening to most Americans.
And today? The 22nd Amendment to the Constitution notwithstanding, in 2020 Donald Trump suggested that he might spend 12 years in office, that he was "probably entitled" to it. Few Republicans openly voiced outrage at this statement. Unquestioning loyalty to a single leader, this is the very concept of civic structure that our Revolution fought to overthrow.
The Founders played the long game. We should do the same. We need to go back to school. We need to inculcate the habits of representative democracy. I am not suggesting a return to the common school. I am suggesting a form of education that continually renews what common school teachers called “civic virtue.”
There are other problems that only education can solve. In the comedy “King Ralph”, the new British king, an American actually, is reminded that he is prohibited from solving problems. His counsellor adds that he is not prohibited from starting some. People who say that COVID vaccines don't work, that Pizzagate is real, that Trump won the election, these people can't enter into meaningful dialogue. They can't offer anything constructive, because they can't offer anything real. They are isolated, peevish, nihilistic. They can't solve problems. That doesn't prohibit them from starting some. As Horace Mann, one of the founders of the common school movement, said, “There is nothing so costly as ignorance.”
2021.12.06 / 13:11