Citizens owe America a better report

July 16, 2012


Dear America:

Happy 236th birthday! And while we’re at it, take a bow for everything you do for us. Even after all these years, you’re still a remarkable lady.

Unfortunately, the reason we’re writing is neither to pass along happy returns nor to express appreciation. The reason is to apologize.

The fact is that we — your citizens and residents — are treating you pretty shabbily.

Since your birth, almost two and a half centuries ago, there’s been a clear arrangement. We the people vote, understand your past and present, and contribute to our communities. In return, you guard the founding principles, create prosperity and protect us from the threats of an unpredictable world.

The importance of this process — sometimes called “civic engagement” — is critical to our national fabric. It’s our collective voices that create government and business agendas, ensure accountability and preserve the ideals that underpin our society. Without this active involvement, to paraphrase Yeats, America will fall apart, the center cannot hold.

Unfortunately, we individuals have been reneging on our part of the agreement. Recently, we’ve been caught red-handed, our misdeeds exposed in two reports: “Fault Lines In Our Democracy” from the Educational Testing Service and “Guardian of Democracy” from the Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools. Here’s some of the evidence.

• Only one-third of Americans could name all three branches of government. One-third couldn’t name any.

• On the 2010 National Assessment of Education Progress, the “nation’s report card,” only about one-quarter of our high school seniors are “proficient” in civics (e.g. they can define “melting pot” and argue whether it applies to the United States).

• Only one in five Americans between the ages of 18 and 34 reads a newspaper. Only one in ten regularly clicks on a news Web page.

• In the areas of civic knowledge, only 5 percent of Americans were deemed competent in economics, 10 percent in geography, 11 percent in domestic issues, and 14 percent in foreign affairs.

• Turnout of eligible voters for the 2008 presidential election was high by our standards but still less than 60 percent. That means nearly 100 million failed to vote. (Asked why, one-third said they were too busy/forgot, and one-quarter said they’re not interested/it won’t matter.)

When we examine these data more closely, clear patterns emerge: They’re called education and age. In 2008, here’s who voted by education level: 39 percent of high school drop outs, 68 percent of those with some college, 83 percent of those with a master’s or higher. Here’s who voted by age group: 48 percent of those 18 to 24; 63 percent of those 35 to 44; 72 percent of those 55 to 75.

So what’s the fix?  Guardian of Democracy lays it out for us: “Knowledge of our system of governance and our rights and responsibilities as citizens is not passed through the gene pool. Each generation of Americans must be taught these basics. Families and parents have a key role to play, yet our schools remain the universal experience we all have to gain civic knowledge and skills.”

This solution will come as no surprise to those in our schools. In recent focus groups held by the College Board and Hart Research, students and teachers were asked about the purposes of high school. Their answer was very clear: The purpose of schooling cannot be limited to traditional academic learning. Schools must also teach citizenship, personal responsibility, lifelong learning and problem solving.

Can schools prepare students for college, train the workers of the future, create good citizens, and develop responsible individuals, all with too few and unstable resources? Possibly. But the current debates about school reform are not adequate.  While talking about teachers or measuring academic performance or discussing who controls our schools is important, we must focus on one subject: what we want our students to know and be able to do. That is the only way we will produce the kinds of students, workers, and citizens we need.

In the ETS report, Robert Maynard Hutchins, the visionary former president of the University of Chicago is quoted as saying, “The death of democracy is not likely to be an assassination from ambush.  It will be a slow extinction from apathy, indifference, and undernourishment.” 

That comment, made in 1954, is as true today as it was more than a half-century ago. In the past we have overcome many serious challenges. We can do so again, but it will require that we respond with energy and commitment.             

America, happy birthday once again, and we hope that next year we’ll be back with a better report.


Your residents and citizens

— Gene Budig is a former chancellor/president of three major state universities, including Kansas University, and past president of Major League Baseball’s American League. Alan Heaps is a vice president of the College Board in New York City.


just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 1 year, 9 months ago

What really has the whackosphere up in arms is that Obama really was pointing out that our society/government indeed does have socialistic aspects to it-- and horror of horrors, it not only works, but businesses couldn't what they do without it!!!


rockchalk1977 1 year, 9 months ago

"You didn't build that.". Obama's burst of ideological candor is a window into his soul. Obama talking about the role of government in a way most Democrats don’t. If you want a sense of how Democrats have handled this issue in recent years, look no further than Bill Clinton’s “the era of big government is over” quote from 1996. Recent polling suggests that Obama’s big-government image is one of the main reasons people oppose him. Among independents, 42% said Obama’s views on the role of government are a main reason to oppose him, versus just 20% who say it’s a reason to support him. The decision for voters in November is simple... do you vote for the Socialist Obama or the Capitalist Romney? Obama needs to learn how to be an American and keep that teleprompter handy.


msezdsit 1 year, 9 months ago

"Have you heard the phrase "we report - you decide." This is bakers/faux spin.

So baker, your problem is that fox makes up the story and you decide you want to believe it and therefore you think you can just stick down everyone else's throat. I'm going to give you some free advice. Don't just believe everything faux tells you is true and then maybe you won't have to make such fool out of yourself trying to sell everyone else on your faux gullibility. You got burned by faux, you should be angry at faux for taking advantage of you.


jafs 1 year, 9 months ago

"we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together".


tbaker 1 year, 9 months ago

msezdsit - are you aware of the fact "what Obama really said" is easily determined by viewing a videotape of him saying it, and needs no explaination from you?

People can watch it and make up their own minds. Have you heard the phrase "we report - you decide." People thinking for themselves must bother you.

Spin job fail


msezdsit 1 year, 9 months ago

The latest from the conservative lying machine: What Faux news said:

"If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help." faux news, not obama

"If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen." faux news, not obama

"The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together" . faux news, not obama

Now what Obama really said, in full context:

"If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet. The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together."

What House Speaker John Boehner did say about Fox's out of context Obama comment: “He said that because he has no idea what it takes to build or run a small business.”

This is what rocchalk77 and all the faux news lovers and rush limbaugh and boehner and all the "hate obama" liars said Obama said. Complete liars and idiots. No integrity just plain zero character.


yourworstnightmare 1 year, 9 months ago

Keynes and Laffer are both correct. Which is correct at the time depends on context.

Supply-side thinking has merit when a demand is not being fulfilled. When folks have money to spend and businesses are too financially burdened to hire people to make products, then a cut in taxes to businesses is appropriate and everything the GOP says about "job creators" holds.

However, supply-side thinking is absolutely incorrect when businesses are sitting on record amounts of cash and people do not have enough money to spend on goods and services. A business tax cut will not help in this case. In this case, a middle class tax cut coupled with an increase in business and personal income tax is appropriate, as in increased government spending. These measures put money in the pockets of the middle class to buy gods and services, creating a demand and allowing the "job creators" to do just that, create jobs to satisfy a demand.

We are of course in the latter context now, when businesses have record amopunts of cash on hand but demand is reduced because of low cash flow in the middle class.


Agnostick 1 year, 9 months ago

Rich people had a laugher over Laffer. It wasn't funny for anyone else, though.


tbaker 1 year, 9 months ago

Given the incredible ignorance of the electorate, should photo ID's be the only thing required to vote? How about a small civics exam?

Perhaps some 8th grade economics to help those poor deluded souls who in the face of a mountain of evidence to the contrary still cling to the Keynesian nonsense that government printing money and devaluing our currency (more than it already is) can “stimulate” a (somewhat) free market economy. Google "Depression of 1946." Enjoy.


yourworstnightmare 1 year, 9 months ago

The US debt is the result of two things: spending increases and tax cuts.

Spending by the US government is what has built and maintains our civic and societal infrastructure tp create a society welcoming to free enterprise.

A large part of our debt includes spending on defense, the military, and on wars.

Taxes are what pay for this spending.

The last thirty years have been dominated by the magical idea that we can spend without paying for it. The Iraq and Afghanistan wars were nearly completely paid for by incurring debt, all the while taxes being cut.

It is selfish, childish, magical thinking that we can spend to maintain our civil society conducive to business and free enterprise and not pay for it through taxes.

This is the disconnect with modern right wing devastation economics.

Spending without paying for it.

Can't have it both ways, folks.


yourworstnightmare 1 year, 9 months ago

It is troubling that the right wing in this country has abandoned the idea of a societal and civic effort. They view taxes as simply taking hard earned money, yet they ignore what society as a whole, represented through our government, has done to lay the foundations of a civil society in which free enterpise can fluorish.

Obama: "Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business - you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen."

Substitute in police, fire, regulation, education, etc.

The extreme right wing have no regard for public efforts to make society a civil place in which business can thrive and has thrived.

This is harmful to our capitalist economy and to our democracy.


Cait McKnelly 1 year, 9 months ago

To begin with, the words, " inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" are not in the Constitution. They are in the Declaration of Independence. The liberty referred to is NOT "liberty from government".
As much as Cato (I gag every time I use that screen name. I doubt seriously the person using it ever read any of the writings of the real Roman consul; who, by the way, was an ancestor of the Emperor Nero.) and the other freepers on this forum would like it to mean that, it doesn't. The US Constitution provides for the collection of taxes by the government to provide a basic level of services to it's citizens. If you don't wish to pay those taxes and contribute to the financial support of your own country, then I suggest you go elsewhere and live in a country with no taxes (if such a place exists). If you don't like how those taxes are spent, I suggest you either stand for election or support the election of someone that you believe will spend that money in a manner with which you agree.


yourworstnightmare 1 year, 9 months ago

The right wing in this country is so extreme that they view public education, "...the universal experience we all have to gain civic knowledge and skills.", as liberal brainwashing.

Civic engagement is anathema to the extreme right wing. Indeed, thay are actively trying to destroy civic engagement and public education.


deathpenaltyliberal 1 year, 9 months ago

"rockchalk19771 hour, 45 minutes ago He spoke from the heart without a teleprompter."

Teleprompter smack. How fresh!


Agnostick 1 year, 9 months ago

A well-written letter... followed by the usual hate-bombers...


rockchalk1977 1 year, 9 months ago

Obama in Roanoke Virginia last Friday... “If you've got a business — you didn't build that." This quote is a window into the the soul of Barack Hussein Obama. The man that despises America and everything it stands for. Obama believes in government solutions vs. capitalism, individualism, and free markets. To think that a sitting American President could say something so ignorant is beyond belief. The tops his infamous "I've now been in 57 states -- I think one left to go." by a mile. We must end this nightmare in November.


beatrice 1 year, 9 months ago

Cato, if the level of taxation is one of the major factors in determining prosperity, how then is it that the economy tanked when taxes were at historical lows, continues to flounder with taxes lower than they have ever been, and grew to make America the world's super power in the 20th century during a time when the top tax rate was 90%? Sorry, but low taxes are not a determinate of national propserity, it can only mean certain individuals get to retain more of their indivdual wealth.

On other points, you make sound arguments. I too believe schools are too quick to pass students who should be failing. Students, even in college, now expect "A"s when they do "C" work. The idea of making children "feel good" rather than making them actually achieve something is indeed a failed product of liberalism, thanks to the Baby Boomers, and needs to be done away with. Not every child will win in sports, just as not every student will excel in science. We need to challenge students so they can learn where they have skills so those skills can be fostered.


just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 1 year, 9 months ago

"Contrary to the authors' assertion, government never "creates prosperity.""

So you counter one assertion with another-- and one that's as wholly ideological as it is wrong.


cato_the_elder 1 year, 9 months ago

Three comments:

  1. Contrary to the authors' assertion, government never "creates prosperity." Only the private business sector creates prosperity, the success of which is proportional to the amount of governmental taxation, regulation, and overall interference it has to face.

  2. If the authors wish to use 1954 as a benchmark, our system of public education, which many of us have vigorously attempted to support, is nowhere near what it was then in terms of excellence and emphasis on accomplishment and success. What has occurred since then has been a gradual watering down of excellence and competitive accomplishment in favor of a system of minimum competency and enforced mediocrity, in which everyone gets a high school diploma (or G.E.D.) and no one's feelings ever get hurt. For example, a few years back U.S.D 497 (Lawrence) did away with requiring high school students to take and pass basic Biology in order to be graduated. Why was it abandoned? Because not every student could pass it - which was openly admitted and discussed in school board meetings. Instead of redoubling efforts to teach our high school kids biology, the Board simply punted so that no one's feelings would get hurt.

  3. To the authors of this column: Outcomes-based education, which this piece appears to advocate, is not the answer. Don't forget that we can teach everyone to dunk a basketball: all we have to do is lower the goal. That's what we've gradually done since 1954, including "No Child Left Behind," which has been a colossal failure. What we need are more teachers, administrators, and school board members like Joe Clark, as portrayed by Morgan Freeman in "Lean on Me," and fewer touchy-feely education theorists who've brought us the mediocrity we've experienced since 1954, starting with the Dick and Jane books right up to the feel-good "middle school philosophy" now inflicted on American public education. Sadly, it's no wonder that American private and parochial schools have gradually become more and more successful as the years have gone by, as institutional mediocrity and its emphasis on appealing to the lowest common denominator have replaced excellence in our public school systems across the country. Yes, it's not as bad in Lawrence as it is in many other places, but we're working hard to keep up.


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