“If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.” wrote Thomas Jefferson in 1861.

Today I stumbled upon an article posted by Eric Allen Bell on September 19, 2009 that says: “Only one in four Oklahoma public high school students can name the first President of the United States, according to a survey released today.” And that is (was) similar in Arizona public schools, and perhaps in other American states. I wonder whether the situation has improved since then.

Fortunately, it seems that the situation has improved a little, just a little. From an editorial published by New York Times in March 2011, I found out that in 2010 the Department of Education gave a civics test to 27,000 children in the 4th, 8th and 12th grades. “Basic” knowledge for an eighth grader meant being able to identify a right protected by the First Amendment. A “proficient” 12th grader could define “melting pot” and argue whether or not the United States is one. An “advanced” fourth grader could “explain two ways countries can deal with shared problems.”

Most students had basic proficiency. But only about one-fourth in each group were “proficient,” and the tiniest percentages were “advanced.” Charles Quigley, executive director of the Center for Civic Education, says “the results confirm an alarming and continuing trend that civics in America is in decline.”

Our ignorance could imperil the future of our country. This is true of other countries as well.

It is especially true about Romania, my birth country, where right these days the government hurriedly changes state institutions, gives ordinances that make it impossible for the Constitution to be respected and for the Justice system to work properly. It is a government that was formed recently as a result of a “no confidence vote” obtained in the Romanian Parliament. How was this “no confidence vote” obtained? Believe it or not, but several Parliament members changed their own party for the current powerful and dictatorial party. They were acts of treason, but almost nobody protested.

Is the Romanian people ignorant? I believe that an alarming percentage of them are. Their parents were “educated” by the totalitarian Communist Party between 1947 and 1989, while the young generation has no good public models to follow. Many people in power are corrupted, and only recently one of them (a former prime minister) was sentenced to a term in prison.

Fortunately, there are public voices in both the European Union and the US who condemned these acts that amount to a “coup d’etat”. I just hope it won’t succeed and that democracy will be restored.

My conclusion: college needs to teach civics as well.

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