This is the way democracy will end, not with a bang …

“I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society, but the people themselves: and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their controul with a wholsome discretion, the remedy is, not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. this is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power.”

Thomas Jefferson

We had better get started, because it is a steep hill to climb.

A report out this month called “A Crisis in Education” reveals an appalling lack of knowledge of civics by Americans in general and even college graduates.

A multiple-choice survey found Americans don’t know much about history or civics. Merely should have resulted in at least 25 percent correct answers since only four choices were given, but ignorance beats the odds

For example, only 20.6 percent could identify James Madison as the primary author of the Constitution, while 60.5 percent answered Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence, who was serving as ambassador to France when the Constitution was written. Only 28.4 percent of college grads correctly named Madison, while 59.2 percent named Jefferson.


The survey found that a college education was less of a factor in civic knowledge than age. Older college grads answered more questions correctly than younger ones.

The study authors offer this explanation for the state of ignorance:

Given all the interest expressed in civic education, how has this happened? The simple answer: a proliferation of programs that do not address the problem. Too many colleges and universities confuse community service and student activism with civic education. Service learning and political engagement form a wholesome part of the development of character and, when judiciously chosen, lead to civic virtue. But without coursework in American history and government, such activities achieve little of substance. Too often, proposals for civic renewal have been overly broad and vague. While they have called for more civic education, they have generally failed to define civic knowledge or require objective assessment. Contemporary discussions of civic education also suffer from what might be called the “universalist fallacy,” which dismisses special concentration on the U.S. Constitution and the founding principles of the nation because such an emphasis makes a “normative” judgment about the priority of certain issues over others in the education of young Americans.

Survey Q1

Survey Q2


How can people ignorant of the lessons of history and the how their own government works make informed decisions at the polls?

“Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance.”

     — H.L. Mencken

“There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.’”

    — Isaac Asimov

8 comments on “This is the way democracy will end, not with a bang …

  1. Connie Foust says:

    Your column is right on. We have to return education to the basics and quit social engineering.

  2. Patrick says:

    Really? I just don’t know about some people.

    First you have some conservatives whining about how teaching history is “brainwashing” and other conservatives talking about how we’re wasting time teaching “liberal arts” and not focusing on STEM type classes. And other conservatives telling the world how we ought to be teaching people what businesses want to pay for; skills and vocational instruction.

    Course, in my eyes, what conservatives REALLY want, is to not have to pay for anything that they don’t personally get themselves, and all this whining REALLY amounts to is an attack on a system, so that they can claim it is a failure, so that people start believing that the money is all being wasted, so that conservatives don’t have to pay for anything that they don’t personally get anymore.

    But…maybe I’m just getting cynical in my old age.

  3. Rincon says:

    These were stupid questions in the first place. None of the three questions presented here addresses information that is important. Knowing what is in the Constitution is important. Knowing the “Father” isn’t (no child support needed). A questionable study done by the same academics that create the ridiculous curricula through which our children suffer.

  4. nyp says:

    It is now official: 2015 was by far the warmest year on record globally.
    “Data released on Wednesday by the UK Met Office shows the average global temperature in 2015 was 0.75C higher than the long-term average between 1961 and 1990, much higher than the 0.57C in 2014, which itself was a record. The Met Office also expects 2016 to set a new record, meaning the global temperature records will have been broken for three years running.

    “Temperature data released in the US on Wednesday by Nasa and by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa) also showed 2015 shattered previous records.”

  5. Winston Smith says:

    Ever since public schools have been increasingly teaching Marxist dogma instead of our original, foundational principles, such as individual, God-given rights, personal responsibility, laissez-faire economics and republican structures, the concept of “history” has been up in the air, no longer able to state absolutes, speak of American exceptionalism, or even agree that individual liberty is particularly important, and that government should protect it.

    In order negate our foundational principles, our Founders have been ignored and/or demonized.

    How better to confuse a generation or three than to rewrite history, like in 1984?

    The concept of “separation of church and state” is a classic example.

  6. Patrick says:

    Generalized nonsense. Exactly which “Marxist dogma” do our schools teach Winston? Is it anything like the words of Thomas Paine who said that our government OWES everyone in the country money and land? Or is it instead like the words of Ben Franklin that called all business (other than farming) “theft”? And what of his call that all property belongs to all men in usufruck? Were more collectivist words ever uttered by Marx?

    But your points don’t really address what I thought you would love to write about which is that public schools ought to be abolished, and that “stealing” money (through taxation) needs to stop, for lots of reason, not least of which is to stop paying for public schools.

    Then you would be the example of what I suggested above, albeit more honest about it.

  7. Rincon says:

    You won’t hear much about global warming from this crowd for awhile, nyp. Once again, Conservatives have been proven wrong = this time by their own standards. They used the exceptionally warm El Nino year of 1998 to “prove” that the warming has paused. 2015, another exceptional El Nino year, smashed the record 1998 temperature by a large margin. This time though, Conservatives will claim the exact opposite. They’ll say one exceptional year is proof of nothing. It isn’t, but this demolishes their previous position that it does. Forced to admit that the warming is real and exceptional, they will fall back to the next absurd position. They will say that it’s a natural phenomenon, despite abundant evidence to the contrary.

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