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Dangers To U.S. Liberties We Missed On July 4

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by Nat Hentoff

Of all I read about July 4 on that celebratory day, by far the most important and not otherwise mentioned anywhere else was an article titled “Celebrating History We Don’t Remember” by Ashley Bateman of the Lexington Institute in Arlington, Virginia, which startlingly appeared in the New York Post that very day.

Its essence — which surprised even me, who has been reporting on this frightening failure of American public education for years:

“Last administered in 2010, the last national civics assessment showed that less than half of eighth-graders understood the purpose of the Bill of Rights and only 10 percent displayed age-appropriate knowledge of our government’s system of checks and balances” — that’s the constitutional separation of powers which bars any one of our three branches of government from reigning over the other two, as President Obama has kept doing most voraciously.

What I also did not know and saw nothing about anywhere else: “Last year the U.S. Education Department (claiming budget pressures) canceled the American history and civics tests within the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

“This ‘gold standard’ test had been our single best tool to measure how well our schools teach (American) history and civics.” In my reporting, I often called it “Our National Report Card.”

But now, Ashley Bateman continues, “rather than working to repair this crucial failing of our schools, we’ve stopped tracking it.”

I’ve yet to see any presently known candidate for our presidency say a word about any of this.

Here is how appallingly we — including parents ignorant of our history — are failing our public school students, and not only under Obama:

“Until the middle of the 20th century, most American high schools offered three courses in civics and government focusing on current events, civic engagement and democracy ... — topics that are now lumped together, and subjects for which schools are rarely held accountable for teaching well.” And most schools don’t teach them at all.

Actually, I’ve long been advocating regular class discussions and debates among students on current events locally, nationally and globally that have been preceded by wide-ranging reading assignments in school on such controversies.

As Ashley Bateman all too correctly warns: “As young people leave school and enter the workforce, their lack of civic awareness often translates into a lack of active social involvement — including in the voting booth.”

(Nat Hentoff is a nationally renowned authority on the First Amendment and the Bill of Rights. He is a member of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and the Cato Institute, where he is a senior fellow.)

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