Sinking Civic Duty

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Funny thing is those who had voted both for and against Kennedy felt like they were a part of his administration.


Much was due to Kennedy’s oratory, but also it was inspired by his concern for humanity . . .


As the customs of governing began to change in Washington, state legislatures followed the example.


With people cut out of the process, they became disgusted and too many gave up participation.


Students were expected to develop critical thinking and strong civic virtues. Today they’re too busy passing government tests.


. . . our founding fathers envisioned a public education system that would prepare youth to be active participants in self-government.


What teacher would dare tell it like it is . . . or encourage students to do their parts to improve the system?


And what teacher would dare give a frank answer to a question about the 2016 election?

When People Don’t Count, They Don’t Vote

My wife remembers she was in her civics class when word came that President John F. Kennedy had been shot and killed. I’m nine years older than she is and was in Korea.

What followed was a lesson in civics.

In Korea, I wondered how it could be that I was safer than my commander-in-chief while I served my country just south of the Demilitarized Zone, sometimes working in it. In New Jersey, Michele must have wondered how the democratic process could be so suddenly superseded by a single bullet.

And what teacher would dare give a frank answer to a question about the 2016 election?

Political Money for The People

Let’s take a look at what really made JFK president. It wasn’t his charisma and good looks, which he had in good supply. It was money. He was the son of a wealthy businessman known for high positions in American politics and government, which increased his wealth and that of his kin. That son – Jack – had access to enormous money and influence and he used it.

Analysts believe JFK won the presidency by narrowly winning the primary in the small state of West Virginia where his campaign tested the question of whether a Catholic could win the presidency. He passed the test because the Mountain State had a passion for money in politics. Votes could easily be bought with a bottle of whisky, even though the liquor stores were closed on Election Day. Some accounts claim West Virginia cost Kennedy $50 a vote.

All that not withstanding, when the dust settled, the fight was over. Kennedy was everyone’s president. He and Jackie were the darling couple — king and queen of Camelot.

Much was due to Kennedy’s oratory, but also it was inspired by his concern for humanity, his focus on the common good and his can-do upbeat optimism that included belief that we could actually reach the moon. He was a dreamer and he made us all dreamers.

We believed the government was on our side – it was there to help us, to protect us and to take us beyond anything we dared imagine.

Nothing galvanized the country before or since more than Kennedy’s assassination.

Bygones be bygones long gone

Love of country, duty to country and support for the common good began to decline from that point forward. Presidents continued to be elected by a narrow margin, but partisan politics no longer took a holiday when the dust settled. What followed was the rise of mean-spiritedness on both sides of the political aisles in federal and state legislatures. Even in local governments.

The Final Exit Poll

Distasteful as the political process had been, it got worse. With people cut out of the process, they became disgusted and too many gave up participation. And the money on the table grew.

Fast forward to the last presidential election.

Although many politicos brag that registered voters in the 2016 presidential election topped 200 million, the overall statistics are hidden from sight and they are grim. I recently Googled “percentage of total U.S. population who voted for the winner” in the last presidential election. No answer. And so, I did my own calculations.

Here’s what I found:

  • The total population in 2016 was a bit more than 323 million.
  • Voter registration topped 200 million due largely to Democrat initiatives.
  • That figures to around 62 percent of the total population being registered.
  • Of the registered voters, only 116 million voted in the general election.
  • A bit less than half of them voted for the winner.
  • Which calculates to 18 percent of the total population.

I repeat: 18 percent of the total population voted for the presidential winner!

Also of interest, one major political party accounted for four-fifths of the recruited new voters and lost the election. At the same time, the other political party campaigned to challenge and reduce voter registration and they won.

And they call that a democratic process.

I published this to my Facebook group, WE Are The Market Force, and got this reply: “Look at the choices we had to vote for. It’s amazing anyone showed up at all.”

That’s a common excuse and I enjoyed responding by noting that only 23 percent of all registered voters in either major party voted in the primary election. Which means that the choices available in the general election were the result of a poor performance in civic duty on both sides during the primary. I expected a follow up argument that the reason people didn’t vote is because the system is controlled by the politically elite. I would have to agree.

But regardless of the excuse, we will have to stop blaming the scapegoats for the shape the political process is in and bear our share of the blame. I don’t say this to criticize you. I say it to empower you with the knowledge that you have always had the choice to either waste or use the power given you by the Constitution.

Decline of Civics Education

The National Education Association (NEA) recently published an article that lamented the decline of civic education in the classroom and began the report by reminding us that our founding fathers envisioned a public education system that would prepare youth to be active participants in self-government. In the past, the NEA pointed out, responsibilities of citizens reached far beyond casting a vote. Citizens were responsible for protecting the common good. Students were expected to develop critical thinking and strong civic virtues.

And I emphasize this point by NEA: “Blind devotion to the state or its leaders would never be enough. Rather, being American was something to be learned and carried out.”

I suspect that was the civics curriculum in New Jersey back when my wife got the news of the Kennedy assassination. Might still be, given the quality of education in New Jersey.

Before the 1960s, according to the NEA, it was common for high school students everywhere in America to have three separate courses in civics and government. But civics offerings were slashed over the next decades and lost further ground when the federal government took control of the curriculum.

Back in the day, education was a local matter controlled by members of local boards of education elected by people in the community. I can’t tell you it was a perfect system, free of politics and community misjudgment, because it wasn’t.

Nowadays, local boards of education dance to the tune of federal regulation and teachers labor under oppressive curriculum requirements that have them teaching students how to pass government tests, with little time left to really teach.

Testing vs. Critical Thinking

Students are too busy memorizing the correct answers on government tests, leaving no time for learning critical thinking. And if there were a government civics test, it would offer only two choices, right or wrong. Right would be the only answer prescribed by the government.

I don’t remember exactly what was taught in my civics class, but I assume it was entirely about how things were supposed to work and what my responsibilities were. And I imagine that was good enough at a time when things were working somewhat the way they were supposed to and civic duty was a socially accepted responsibility.

But I can’t imagine that would be adequate today. Which must be the reason the political and partisan power structures are so nervous about what might be taught in civics class.

What teacher would dare tell it like it is, providing students with the statistics I just gave you? Or encourage students to do their parts to improve the system? And what teacher would dare answer a question about last year’s election?

Too controversial. Cover their ears!

Although this course focuses on economics, you begin to see that we cannot ignore the political front and that there is a thread starting here that provides remedial civics for grownups.

Obviously it’s needed.

Please share.

Please move on to the next essay
Go to: Pissed Off Millennials

After Class Chat

Has it ever occurred to you that military service was once considered a civic duty? Draft dodgers were frowned upon and many fled to Canada during the Vietnam “War” to escape participation in a war they did not condone. The rest of the citizenry were roundly critical at the time.

Now military service is an option. Few of those elected to public office today have ever served their country in uniform.

So, what do you think? Does that have anything to do with sinking civics?

Resources

Not My EconomicsSinking Civic Duty