Recently, my adult kids, nephews and nieces have engaged me in separate conversations about how their country works, or rather why their country isn’t working the way they thought it would, or should. The sad part of these dialogues is that I have become painfully aware of what they have and have not been taught. It seems that a large section of our educational curriculum has failed an entire generation that will soon take on positions of leadership. Granted, any conversation with an adult family member that starts with “Why ….” – or – “How come ….” is so much more enjoyable than one that starts with “Can you, please ….” but lest I digress.
The History and Discovery Channels have made a fortune on their TV shows dealing with “how stuff works”. Seldom have I watched an episode and not learned something. Following one of these father/uncle-kid conversations I thought about how valuable it would be if one of these channels did a series entitled How America Works.
While the college GPA’s of these young adults were exceptional, their education has produced a mixed bag of fundamental understanding of core subjects. Math and science knowledge is pretty solid given that there is little room for opinion or subjective analysis in the empirical disciplines. It’s the humanities that gives me cause for concern; history, (macro) economics, and civics to be exact. For those readers under age 40, civics used to be that dreaded, yet required course of study which broke down the individual elements of government, rights, responsibilities, and basic citizenship. While I appreciate my force feeding today, I admit to having failed to see its importance when I was a teen. ‘Enlightened’ education experts downgraded its significance in the 70’s and all but removed it from public school curriculums in the 80’s.
In 2010, we have a generation of 20-35 year olds that are really confused about the basics of their own country and citizenship. Because they don’t have a good grasp on American history in terms of this country’s inception, the gutsy motivation to launch the Speedwell and the Mayflower, the explanation (Declaration of Independence), the rule book (Constitution), the philosophy, (Federalist Papers), and the priceless work of the Founders, they can’t truly appreciate what sets this country apart from what they see as their equal counterparts in Europe.
Because they don’t have an understanding of how the Constitution works, they are confused about how the Legislative, Judicial, and Executive branches of government operate independently, and yet in unison. Because they get their news from John Stewart and Stephen Colbert on The Comedy Channel, cutting edge satire further confuses complex issues we face by camouflaging them with some hilarious punch line. Because they don’t understand macro economic principles they have trouble sorting out the facts and fallacies of the free market, socialism, and capitalism. Because most of them don’t earn enough to pay taxes they aren’t motivated to understand why they don’t get everything from the government for free. Because their critical thinking skills were not honed in the education process there is a disconnect between cause and effect relationships in basic issues such as debt and credit, risk and reward, failure and consequence. Because they’ve only been taught the freedoms and rights side of the Constitutional equation they routinely come up short on the individual responsibilities category thus making the WikiLeaks debacle not such a big deal and Julian Assange merely a whistleblower.
Without this basic level of understanding these young people are ill prepared to sort through the difficult issues this nation faces and develop informed perspectives. I remember my youthful social idealism when I surveyed some of America’s missteps and deficiencies. However, my idealism was framed in ‘we can do better’, and not in terms of an immoral, uncompassionate or corrupt American political and business community.
At the end of the day I truly love these conversations with them. They are smart young adults, some looking for answers and others looking to debate. For certain they have learned independence and are not in lock step with my worldview. Still, I tell them that while I am intensely interested in ‘what’ they think, I am more concerned in ‘how’ they think as it says more about them as a person. All of them spent their undergrad years at arguably, some of the best universities the US has to offer and graduated with transcripts indicating they didn’t sleep through class. Its just a shame my depleted education funds didn’t get a better return on its investment in the name of tomorrows citizens.