What's the Constitution? Don't bother asking 70% of Americans: Alarming number of U.S. citizens don't know basic facts about their own country. 1,000 Americans were given the U.S. Citizenship test and it was, not surprisingly, found that their knowledge of the history and running of their own country was seriously lacking. The U.S. citizenship test is administered to all immigrants applying for citizenship. It is comprised of 100 questions across five categories - American government, systems of government, rights and responsibilities, American history and integrated civics. An alarming number of Americans did not know basic information about the Constitution, namely that it was the supreme law of the land, that it was set up at the Constitutional Convention and that the first ten amendments are known as the Bill of Rights.
The cold truth about this crisis among a supposedly self-governing citizenry is stated by former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor: “Knowledge of our system of government is not handed down through the gene pool. … But we have neglected civic education for the past several decades, and the results are predictably dismal.” She also lamented: “Barely one-third of Americans can even name the three branches of government.” We recently learned that even a recently elected member to the House of Representatives did not know the three branches of government.
O’Connor adds: “We face difficult challenges at home and abroad, meanwhile, divisive rhetoric and a culture of sound bites threaten to drown out rational dialogue and debate. We cannot afford to continue to neglect the preparation of future generations for active and informed citizenship.”
A study by the Center for Information and Research on Civil Learning & Engagement at Tufts University has found that most states do not emphasize civic education, which includes learning about citizenship, government, law, current events and related topics.
21 states require a state-designed social studies test — a significant decrease from 2001, when 34 states conducted regular assessments on social studies subjects. Only nine states require students to pass a social studies test to graduate from high school: Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia. Georgia’s will be phased out.
The American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) today released a survey that shows how little college graduates and the general public know about the Constitution.
According to the study, nearly 10% of college graduates think Judith Sheindlin — commonly known as Judge Judy — is on the Supreme Court; one-third of college graduates can’t identify the Bill of Rights as a name given to a group of Constitutional amendments. Shockingly, 46% of college grads don’t know the election cycle — six years for senators, two years for representatives. Turning to the general population, the report finds that over half (54%) of those surveyed cannot identify the Bill of Rights accurately, and over 1 in 10 (11%) of those ages 25–34 believe that the Constitution must be reauthorized every four years.
Elena Kagan, President Barack Obama’s choice to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens on the Supreme Court, is best known for moving Harvard Law School away from the 100-year old “case-law method” of legal study.
But in the process, critics say, she moved the nation’s premier law school away from requiring the study of U.S. constitutional law towards the study of the laws of foreign nations and international law.
As dean, Kagan won approval from the faculty in 2006 to make major changes to the Harvard Law's curriculum.
“My understanding is that she instituted three new courses to the required curriculum and, in so doing, got rid of a requirement to take constitutional law,” Robert Alt, senior legal fellow and deputy director of the Center for Legal and Judicial Studies at the Heritage Foundation stated.
“Currently, at Harvard, constitutional law is not required for first-year law students, or even for graduation,” Alt added.
Indeed, according to Harvard documents, constitutional law is not listed among the law school’s academic requirements, though the catalogue listed more than a dozen elective courses dealing with some form of constitutional law.
But in a Harvard news release explaining the changes, Kagan explained the move away from constitutional law was deliberate: “From the beginning of law school, students should learn to locate what they are learning about public and private law in the United States within the context of a larger universe -- global networks of economic regulation and private ordering, public systems created through multilateral relations among states, and different and widely varying legal cultures and systems.
“Accordingly, the Law School will develop three foundation courses, each of which represents a door into the global sphere that students will use as context for U.S. law,” the guide said.
What we know, is that when somebody, anybody, says something is or is not constitutional; ask them how they know. Ask them if they have ever studied the United States Constitution, the Federalist, or its history. Chances are that they have not, even if they are graduates of a law school. Chances are very good that they are using the bumper sticker phrase, “that is not constitutional” because they have heard it stated by some pundit, who in all likelihood has no idea what is or is not in the United States Constitution.
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