By Catholic Online
3/23/2011 (4 years ago)
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)
Newsweek magazine recently asked 1,000 U.S. citizens to take America's official citizenship test, and the results were grim. At least 29 percent couldn't name the vice president, 73 percent couldn't correctly say why we fought the Cold War, 44 percent were unable to define the Bill of Rights and 6 percent couldn't even circle Independence Day on a calendar.
LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Americans have long misunderstood checks and balances and have consistently misidentified their senators. According to a study by Michael X. Delli Carpini, dean of the Annenberg School for Communication, the annual shifts in civic knowledge since World War II have averaged out to "slightly under one percent."
The world is rapidly changing, and those who plead ignorance of their own individual rights face dire consequences. The European Journal of Communication polled citizens of Britain, Denmark, Finland and the U.S. to answer questions on international affairs. Sixty-eight percent of Danes, 75 percent of Brits, and 76 percent of Finns could, for example, identify the Taliban, but only 58 percent of Americans managed to do the same, even though we've led the charge in Afghanistan.
U.S. government is relatively complex in contrast to European parliamentary systems. In many European countries, parliaments have proportional representation, and the majority party rules without having to "share power with a lot of sub-national governments," notes Yale political scientist Jacob Hacker, coauthor of Winner-Take-All Politics.
In comparison, we're saddled with a non-proportional Senate; a tangle of state, local, and federal bureaucracies; and near-constant elections for every imaginable office (judge, sheriff, school-board member, and so on).
"Nobody is competent to understand it all, which you realize every time you vote," Michael Schudson, author of "The Good Citizen" says. "You know you're going to come up short, and that discourages you from learning more."
Newsweek magazine encapsulates the issue thusly: "For more than two centuries, Americans have gotten away with not knowing much about the world around them. But times have changed -- and they've changed in ways that make civic ignorance a big problem going forward.
"While isolationism is fine in an isolated society, we can no longer afford to mind our own business. What happens in China and India (or at a Japanese nuclear plant) affects the autoworker in Detroit; what happens in the statehouse and the White House affects the competition in China and India. Before the Internet, brawn was enough; now the information economy demands brains instead. And where we once relied on political institutions (like organized labor) to school the middle classes and give them leverage, we now have nothing."
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