And what of those who don't know their present?
The internet revolution has put the world’s knowledge at our fingertips, and we should be the most knowledgeable and civically literate generation in American history. After all, a week of the New York Times contains more information than the average 18th century American encountered in their entire lifetime, and today human knowledge doubles every 13 months. Yet despite our unprecedented access to this great flow of information, Americans’ overall political knowledge and civic literacy is startlingly low. More people can name the Three Stooges than the three branches of government (36%). Most Americans can neither identify their U.S. House representative nor place Afghanistan (only 17%) on a world map. Only 20% of Americans know how many senators there are, 77% of Americans between 18 and 34 could not even name one senator in their home state, and more than half of Americans don’t know that the first 10 Amendments to the Constitution are known as the Bill of Rights. Yikes. According to the Annenberg Public Policy Center, just 15% of Americans could correctly identify the chief justice of the United States, John Roberts, while 27% knew Randy Jackson was a judge on American Idol. I could go on.
Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence and a passionate believer in education as the cornerstone of democracy, once wrote, "If a nation expects to be both ignorant and free in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be." Anyone unsure of America’s civic illiteracy before the 2016 election should harbor no illusions of what We The People have become. A steady diet of fake ads, outright lies, and hateful propaganda filled this year’s campaign, fuels our ignorance, and undermines our political system. As James Madison, the "father" of the Constitution, wrote, "A well-instructed people alone can be permanently a free people." And we politics teachers must make it our task to instruct our student-citizens in the art of political efficacy.