Blogs > Cliopatria > Why Are Americans So Ignorant of the Constitution?

Oct 6, 2010 1:38 pm

Why Are Americans So Ignorant of the Constitution?

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Food for Thought

Lion Calandra

[Lion Calandra is a Jennings Fellow with the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia.]

According to a recent survey by the National Constitution Center of 600 students, 58 percent know that Bill Gates is the father of Microsoft, but only 2 percent know that James Madison is the father of the Constitution. About 64 percent of respondents know that “The Club” protects against car theft, but just 25 percent understand that the Fifth Amendment offers the right to a grand jury trial. A whopping 59 percent can name the Three Stooges, while 41 percent can name the three branches of government.

I witnessed this lack of understanding recently when I was standing in line at a movie house behind a woman who objected to the theater’s policy of searching purses and backpacks. She indignantly told a theater employee that her purse could not be inspected, citing the Fourth Amendment’s protection against illegal searches.

She did not know that, in general, the Fourth Amendment does not apply to private businesses – only to governments. The movie theater has a right to require a bag search; she has the right to take her business elsewhere.

Her mistake is forgivable when you consider that even President Obama cannot get it right. During his first State of the Union address, Mr. Obama said, “...we find unity in our incredible diversity, drawing on the promise enshrined in our Constitution: the notion that we’re all created equal.”

Those words are good ones, and they are in the Declaration of Independence....

Before we lay blame, it should be noted that invalidating the Constitution is a bipartisan pastime.

During his speech last year before the Conservative Political Action Conference, talk show host Rush Limbaugh said, “We believe that the preamble to the Constitution contains an inarguable truth that we are all endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights, among them life, liberty, freedom and the pursuit of happiness.”

Again, that’s the Declaration of Independence....

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More Comments:

- 9/22/2010

It has been two generations since public school teachers knew anything about the Constitution, let alone taught it, and it wasn't taught to college students because they were supposed to have learned it in high school. Let's blame the teachers and not the pupils. The teachers were the ones who dropped the Lady's torch--probably because it was a bit of a chore to teach--and the unions have been good at reducing their workload, too. (At least we should hope that was the unions' motive, which easily might have been anti-Americanism, instead). In any event, it did not fit the desired result demanded by "outcomes based education" models, in which the proles were to go directly to their jobs in the mill because they were incapable of anything so demanding as voting thoughtfully, and all the high priests of education favored that calamitous regimen.

Most vital writings of the ancients were lost for centuries before being exhumed and inculcated in modern man from monastic libraries in Europe, and maybe the Constitution and Federalist Papers will have the same fate, should they go into total eclipse. Their ideas are as powerful as ever, as we note by their recent adoption in Ulan Bator, not to mention their welling up in the breasts of faithful attendees at the Tea Parties. Given several more years of Obama-like rule, the current malaise might continue for a while, but a resurrection would occur (with a big bang) during the second coming of Reaganism.

Elizabeth Cregan - 9/22/2010

WEll, think about it, when was the last time civics was a part of public education? I learned about the constitution on my own. I am often pointing out in discussions things like education NOT being a fed responsibility and that the national guard is NOT at the absolute disposal of the president, or that states MUST recognize marriage from other states under the contract clause. It's a shame that people are so clueless, the constitution is a great thing. Oh and try explaining to people that the B.o.R. was not an original attachment to our constitution! EVERYONE in america should have to read the federalist papers by 8th grade!

George E. Rennar - 9/20/2010

So "the Fifth Amendment offers the right to a grand jury trial." Really?

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