But our Founders, insistent on not replacing George III with a made‐in‐America king, mandated the constitutional separation of powers to prevent any president, including the two I cited earlier, from utterly disregarding Congress and the courts.
Among our imminent and future voters — students in our schools — how many know about the separation of powers? In the National Assessment of Educational Progress — NAEP (“The nation’s report card”): “Only one in 10 demonstrated acceptable knowledge of the checks and balances among the legislative, executive and judicial branches, according to test results released on Wednesday.” (New York Times, May 4)
And what of their parents? Of 1,000 citizens who were asked in a Newsweek poll: ” ‘What is the supreme law of the land?’ 70 percent of the 1,000 citizens polled by Newsweek couldn’t answer correctly.” (ABC News, May 13).
Answer: The Constitution!
Among the high‐school seniors surveyed by the NAEP, three‐quarters could not name “a power granted to Congress by the Constitution.”
What most startled me was “the nation’s report card” revealing that “a smaller proportion of fourth‐ and eighth‐graders demonstrated proficiency in civics (who we are as Americans) than in any other subject the federal government has tested since 2005, except history, American students’ worst subject.”
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 (Jewish World Review.com, April 28: “Barely one‐third of Americans can even name the three branches of government.” (Education week, May 4) my column, “The sickly state of the First Amendment.” (Jewish World Review.com).
She adds: “We face difficult challenges at home and abroad.” (I would add, indefinitely.) “Meanwhile,” O’Connor continues: “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.” (New York Times, “Civics Education Called National Crisis,” May 5).
I expect the name, Alexis De Tocqueville is unknown these days to most Americans, but his Democracy in America (written in 1831 after visiting this new nation) used to be studied in some of our schools, revealing that in the early 1800s: