A recent study by the National Assessment for Educational Progress reported that only 67% of all high school students have spent any time studying the nation’s founding document. Every four years, the NAEP polls 10,000 students about their knowledge of – or even exposure to – the Constitution. The percentage of knowledgeable students is continually decreasing and, since 2007, the numbers have fallen another five percentage points from 72%. Maybe this is obvious, but shouldn’t a responsible and informed citizenship be one of the goals of public education?
Without basic knowledge of this foundational document, these voters will be hard pressed to answer some of the most important political questions in 2012. The next election is going to depend on every voter’s understanding of constitutional authority. For instance, does Obamacare’s individual mandate fall under the commerce clause? Other recent questions – like which branches are involved in the decision to declare war – cannot be answered without a thorough understanding of the Constitution.
But a basic understanding of the Constitution is useful well beyond just the next election. The Constitution spells out both the powers and limitations of the federal government. It seems that it could become rather difficult to secure the blessings of liberty without teaching the next generation how our government is designed to protect these liberties.
This coming September 17 is Constitution Day. This federal holiday is set aside to celebrate the day the structure of government in the United States of America was signed into law. This summer – maybe on one of those oppressively hot and humid days when air conditioning is particularly welcome – might just be a good time to brush up on this founding document.