Why Are We Surprised?
On Tuesday the radio talk-show host Glenn Beck discussed on his daily program the stunning results of a recent poll (the first national survey of its kind) testing the knowledge of American adults of their knowledge of the American Revolution and its principles.
From the American Revolution Center, which conducted the survey:
The survey questions addressed issues related to the Revolutionary documents, people, and events, and also asked attitudinal questions about the respondents’ perception of the importance of understanding the Revolutionary history and the institutions that were established to preserve our freedoms and liberties. The survey results highlight the importance of, interest in, and lack of understanding of our Founding.
The specifics of the poll, and their results, can be viewed by viewing the PDF file available from the American Revolution Center’s website, here.
The average score was 44%, and nearly 83% of those surveyed failed to get a passing grade, meaning that they failed to get more than 16 questions correct on a 27-question exam.
The survey showed that by far, the majority of what Americans know about the Revolution and its principles comes from what they were taught in the school system. That statistic alone should account for the rest of the results of the survey. Hence the question posed in the title of this post: Why are we so surprised? Why are we so surprised that
Sixty percent of Americans could correctly identify the number of children in reality-TV show couple Jon and Gosselin’s household (eight), but did not know the century in which the American Revolution took place.
What?! Is 1776 such a hard date to remember? Or is this the result of a confusion over which century the 1700s were? (It was the 18th, and not the 17th century.)
Many more Americans knew that entertainer Michael Jackson sang “Beat It” and “Billie Jean” than knew that the Bill of Rights is part of the United States Constitution.
The survey also showed that the second most popular source of information concerning the Revolution, its leading figures, and its principles (again, this statistic is not a surprise), comes from books written on the subject. That can be good. However, given the kinds of books that are the most popular these days on the subject of the American Revolution and the Founders, that can also be bad. If one examines the kinds of books that are most popular today on the Revolution and on the Founders, books written by popular authors, it is pretty clear that these books, in general, tend to (A) market their works to popular audiences, and (B) add to/reinforce what the reader most likely was taught in school (not surprising, since most of these popular authors are professors at public universities and colleges).
Now, these two attempts are not bad in and of themselves. However, marketing to popular audiences is wrong when one tries to appeal to the baser passions of the people, by accentuating the grotesque and the negative to make the material sensational, in an attempt to add to the work’s “popular appeal.” Reinforcing what has been taught in the schools is also dangerous when the schools are bent on impressing the minds of the students with humanistic philosophy, and not the truth.
And the third greatest source of information concerning the Revolution is (again, no big shock here) the television. Most of what is televised on the Revolution is drama and documentaries, but we really do not seem to have much on the Revolution in either category. And of course, it is no big surprise that Hollywood would *gasp* play fast and loose with the facts, all in the name of “creative license” and “entertainment.” If you think that popular books debase everything to add to their “popular appeal,” dramas and even documentaries do it to a much greater extent, and much more effectively. Therefore if someone is interested in learning more about our Revolution, ah, the boob tube would be the last place to get such an education. Most likely it will not inform. It will deform, twist, distort, until it has molded a false and graven image of the Revolution, its leaders, and its principles, into the minds of as many viewers as possible.
However, the part of the survey which is the most astonishing, is that although a majority of Americans believe that the Revolution’s principles apply today, and that many of the rights, privileges, and protections that we enjoy under our form of government — freedoms which our American forefathers fought and died for — are important, enough Americans do not believe that those rights are important to make one shudder. See the image below (click to enlarge), from which these statistic are obtained, to view how American opinion has changed for or against these rights and protections within a year.
And now for the figures, which speak for themselves:
14% said that although the right to a fair trial was important, it was not essential to American liberty.
18% said that although the right to practice the religion of your choice was important, but not essential.
22% said that the right to privacy was important, but not essential.
28% said the right to “speak freely about whatever you want” was important, but not essential, and 2% said it was not important at all.
23% said that the right to practice no religion was important but not essential, and 10% said that it was not important at all.
29% said that the right to march, protest, or petition the government is important but not essential, and 6% said it is not important at all.
32% said that the right not to have your property searched or seized is important, but not essential, and 6% said that it was not important at all.
35% said that the right to own firearms was important, but not essential, and 19% said that it was not important at all.
OK, a little disclaimer needs to be added here. The “rights” of “speaking freely about whatever you want” and of “practicing no religion” are not rights, nor did the Founders fight to protect them. You do not have the government right to speak about whatever you want. Speaking profanity, obscenity, or insulting the Christian religion and Jesus Christ were viewed as serious offenses to the Founding Fathers.
See for example, the case of The People v. Ruggles (1811), which was brought before the Supreme Court of New York State, and the opinion of the court was delivered by Chancellor James Kent. Kent was a contemporary and close associate with such notable Founding Fathers as Alexander Hamilton and John Jay (and no, the majority of Americans couldn’t identify those two figures either). Kent is known as one of America’s two “Fathers of American Jurisprudence” (the other is Kent’s contemporary Judge Joseph Story), for his authoritative Commentaries on the United States Constitution. Kent, in the case in question, made this declaration:
The people of this state, in common with the people of this country, profess the general doctrines of Christianity as the rule of their faith and practice; and to scandalize the Author of these doctrines is not only in a religious point of view extremely impious, but even in respect to the obligations due to society is a gross violation of decency and good order. Nothing could be more offensive to the virtuous part of the community, or more injurious to the tender morals of the young, than to declare such profanity lawful. (SOURCE)
We do enjoy freedom of speech, but that is not the same as enjoying the right to “speak freely about whatever you want.” If it was the intention of the survey to inquire as to how Americans view the importance of freedom of speech, as specified in the Bill of Rights, then they misinterpreted it with their question, making a whole new “right.” If I had taken the survey, I would have answered as the minority above answered it.
And as for “having no religion” — that is not a right. It is something that is not within the sphere of government, so you might say that because the government is not allowed to interfere in that matter, it is something you enjoy under a free system of government. However, that does not automatically make it a “right.” Nor did the Founders specify it in the Founding Documents as a protected right.
So as for those two questions, I think I can understand the reasons for the minority’s answers. At best, those two questions are poorly phrased. However, the rest are as plain as they need be, and we have considerable numbers of people saying that they are not essential? The right to bear arms (i.e., the right to defend myself, defend my family and property, the power to defend the innocent) is not essential? The right to peacefully assemble to petition the government for a redress of grievances is not essential?
Maybe I good question to ask the people who took this survey would be this:
WHAT ON EARTH IS ESSENTIAL?!?!?!
By looking at the ways in which the majority of the surveyed Americans excelled in knowledge, they think that television and entertainment is essential. As the survey PDF will show its readers, most of the Americans surveyed say that they have a desire to know more about the Revolution, until now they think they have a fairly good understanding of the basics, and they expected (at least the majority did) to excel, and they did not. Maybe this would make a good illustration of “good intentions” versus “good actions.”
So that is where we are at, America. We are enjoying ourselves to death. Literally. As the country fantasizes over the things that entertain it and tickle its whimsical fancies, our liberties are being ripped apart piece-by-piece by those who hate this country and everything for which it really stands. This survey is not all bad news, but if the body of the American citizenry is not awakened to a sense of real danger and real urgency, our tiny steps toward improvement will mean nothing, as our destruction makes huge strides.
Get wisdom! Get understanding! Do not forget, nor turn away from the words of my mouth.
Do not forsake her, and she will preserve you; Love her, and she will keep you.
Wisdom is the principal thing;
Therefore get wisdom. And in all your getting, get understanding.
~ Proverbs 4:5-7
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