The United States is the greatest nation on earth because of the careful and tireless work of patriots like Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Franklin, Madison, and countless others. This incredible group of patriots, filled with a deep and abiding love for liberty and our new land, instilled in our young nation the principles and ideals that have guided it for over 200 years. Unfortunately, for too long our schools have done a poor job of teaching our children the civic information necessary to prepare them to be active citizens in our society.
On the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Civics Assessment, more than two-thirds of all American students scored below proficient. This has led former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor to declare that our country is facing a “crisis in civic education.”
Almost all students know the Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4, 1776 and that George Washington was the first president of the United States. However, students are sorely lacking in knowledge concerning our founding documents such as the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, and the principles and ideas upon which they were built. It is one thing to know that the Constitution is the document that spells out our system of federal government. But how many high school graduates can list all ten amendments of the Bill of Rights? I would wager not many.
This is unfortunate because up until the 1960s, the idea of schools having an irreplaceable mission to teach civics was clearly recognized. Indeed, our Founding Fathers in the earliest days of our new nation knew that a free society must depend on its citizens’ knowledge, skills and civic virtue. According to John Adams, “Children should be educated and instructed in the principles of freedom.”
Is it any wonder with the lack of understanding most people have concerning how and why our government works, that so few people actively participate in it on a regular basis. If we do not stress to students how important our system of government is to the way they live their lives, it should come as no surprise that only slightly more than half of U.S. citizens voted in the last presidential election.
As citizens of this great nation, we reap daily the fruits of our founding fathers’ work. We enjoy a level of freedom and economic prosperity unmatched in the rest of the world. Unfortunately, many Americans often take these freedoms for granted and forget that with great freedom comes great responsibility.
It is more important than ever that our children, regardless of origin, are made aware of our nation's political and civic heritage. Continuing to ignore our nation’s founding documents and failing to prepare our children as citizens can only jeopardize the future of our democratic institutions.
So as we pause to wish our country Happy Birthday, let’s take a moment to say the Pledge of Allegiance and pay homage to the principles and ideals that have made the United States of America the greatest nation on earth.
Andrew LeFevre is director of development for the Scottsdale-based Joe Foss Institute, a 501 (C)(3) educational organization dedicated to teaching our nation’s youth about patriotism, public service, integrity and an appreciation for America’s unique freedoms and history.