Ed Moore: Young Americans need to learn about the country’s history, values

Have you ever watched a Fox News Watters World segment where the host randomly asks simple questions of passersby and gets inaccurate and inane answers?

It is similar in format to the old Jay Walking segments that Jay Leno used to do with similar results. At first I wondered just how many people had to be captured on tape to get a few foolish replies.

Recent polls show that they do not have to interview many. We should all be frightened for our future as a republic.

Our history is the path we took to get where we are today. To ignore it or be ignorant of it are equally dangerous in building the path to where we hope to be tomorrow. Based on several polls, we are headed off the cliff.

Many notable people over time have modified the phrase first used by Edmund Burke, “Those who don’t know the past are doomed to repeat it.”

Even Lemony Snicket, The End, had the line, “Those unable to catalog the past are doomed to repeat it.”

Seemingly we now live in an era where knowledge of our past is a thing of the past. Instead, we get caught up in the issues carried by E!, Access Hollywood and TMZ. When more of us know about Beyonce’s Lemonade! than the names of five former U.S. presidents or even one U.S. Senator from your home state, we have altered our priorities.

We have changed what is important in a civil society and begun to unravel the fabric that has bound us as a nation for over 200 years.

Let’s examine what is known and not known by Millennials – people in the 18-34 age bracket. Our future depends on this generation, especially as Baby Boomers begin to retire from engagement in the economy and civic affairs.

Millennials now comprise the largest age group in the country. They are either in college or in the early stages of their working careers with the best part of their educational experience behind them. Let’s hope they are better informed than these polls indicate.

An American Council of Trustees and Alumni poll captures the poorly constructed box within which we have placed ourselves.

The poll found that while all 12th graders reported taking civics, just 24 percent could score at proficient or above; with 36 percent not even at the basic level. Only one in five could name James Madison as the Father of the Constitution, one in 10 thought Judge Judy was on the Supreme Court, and more than half couldn’t explain how to amend the Constitution.

Fewer than one in five college graduates could not describe the effects of the Emancipation Proclamation and only 42 percent knew that the Battle of the Bulge was fought during WWII.

These findings are scary. They indicate that we are failing to educate our citizens and that will unravel our national fabric.

Millennials are perhaps the most highly educated people in history, but many don’t understand the issues and principles that hold our fragile republic together.

As Ronald Reagan once said, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.”

He was correct, but he forgot to add that we must continue to teach why these values are important, and how we got to where we are today.

Thomas Jefferson wrote, “Educate and inform the whole mass of the people…They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.”

We are largely failing to heed the advice given by these two former presidents and we do so at our peril.

A recent Harvard University survey found that 51 percent of young adults don’t support capitalism. A Pew Research study found that 47 percent have this same view, while 49 percent thought positively about socialism.

Is this a seismic shift in philosophy or a lack of understanding about what each system actually is and does? Students spend a lot of time on community service and engagement, building blocks for engaged citizenship. Yet they spend little time building the foundational knowledge for informed citizenship.

Ben Franklin’s admonition that “We have a Republic, if you can keep it” seems apt today. He also said, “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” We need more of that.


Ed H. Moore resides in Tallahassee and is perpetually awaiting a rebirth of wonder. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

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