On education: The wolves are at the door

by Thomas Mitchell, Editor
Las Vegas Review-Journal


A couple of weeks ago we were lamenting the failure of our public schools to adequately prepare the next generation for its responsibilities in a democratic society.

A study by the Albert Shanker Institute had found schools lacking in social studies, economics, civics, geography and history, and mired in the pap of nonjudgmentalism.

Since then, two more studies have come out with the same tune, different verse.

The Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an education reform group out of Ohio, looked at U.S. history instruction and gave Nevada a C for its standards, but nearly half the states flunked. The study says there is nothing in Nevada's standards for eighth-grade history "to suggest that students have studied ... the development of democratic institutions and values in the colonies ... "

A study by the National Conference of State Legislatures concluded younger people "do not understand the ideals of citizenship, they are disengaged from the political process, they lack the knowledge necessary for effective self-government, and their appreciation and support of American democracy is limited."

Eighty percent of those 26 or younger knew who won television's "American Idol" title, but fewer than half knew the political party of their state's governor.

Educators babble about the modalities of learning and how learning should be fun and presented in different ways for different abilities and preferences. So I thought today I'd rip a page from a different part of the newspaper and offer an advice column for the civics lorn, using some old friends to answer questions about: What do we do with the kids today?

Question: Sam, what do think will be the result of this generational apathy in a time of terrorism and international conflict?

Answer: "No people will tamely surrender their Liberties, nor can any be easily subdued, when knowledge is diffused and Virtue is preserved. On the Contrary, when People are universally ignorant, and debauch in their Manners, they will sink under their own weight without the Aid of foreign Invaders." -- Samuel Adams.

Q: Tom, a week or so ago Nevada's Supreme Court wrote an opinion that said the electorate did not know what they were doing when they voted for a two-thirds majority requirement for legislative approval of higher taxes. What are your thoughts on this sort of rationale?

A: "I know of no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves, and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them but to inform their discretion." -- Thomas Jefferson.

Q: George, what do you say about ignorant youth?

A: "The best means of forming a manly, virtuous, and happy people will be found in the right education of youth. Without this foundation, every other means, in my opinion, must fail." -- George Washington.

Q: Tom, what's going to become of this country?

A: "Cherish ... the spirit of our people, and keep alive their attention. Do not be too severe upon their errors, but reclaim them by enlightening them. If once they become inattentive to the public affairs, you and I, and Congress, and Assemblies, Judges, and Governors, shall all become wolves." -- Jefferson.

Q: Jimmy, surely you are not so pessimistic.

A: "A popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or, perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives." -- James Madison.

Q: What is the role of the newspaper in this?

A: "To the press alone, checkered as it is with abuses, the world is indebted for all the triumphs which have been gained by reason and humanity over error and oppression." -- Madison.

Thanks, guys, but if our current judges, governor and legislators are any indication, I think the wolves are at the door ... and the kids have left it unlocked.

Thomas Mitchell, editor of the Review-Journal, writes a column on the newspaper's functions and role in the community. He may be reached at 383-0261 or via e-mail at tmitchell@reviewjournal.com.


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