Our Observations

A Call for Civic Education

Should we be alarmed that only about one in three Americans can accurately respond to this query: name the three branches of government in the United States? Is it even more shocking that another third could not even name one of those branches?

The Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania released this information on Constitution Day, September 17, along with other results in a press release intent on raising our ire:

  • Just over a quarter of Americans (27 percent) know it takes a two-thirds vote of the House and Senate to override a presidential veto.

  • Asked which party has the most members in the House of Representatives, 38 percent said they knew the Republicans are the majority, but 17 percent responded the Democrats, and 44 percent reported that they did not know (up from 27 percent who said they did not know in 2011).

  • Asked which party controls the Senate, 38 percent correctly said the Democrats, 20 percent said the Republicans, and 42 percent said they did not know (also up from 27 percent who said they did not know in 2011).

  • Just over a quarter of Americans (27 percent) know it takes a two-thirds vote of the House and Senate to override a presidential veto.

“Although surveys reflect disapproval of the way Congress, the President and the Supreme Court are conducting their affairs, the Annenberg survey demonstrates that many know surprisingly little about these branches of government,” said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center (APPC) said in the press release. “This survey offers dramatic evidence of the need for more and better civics education.”

With the survey release, the Center promoted the launch of Civics Renewal Network, described as “a consortium of nonpartisan, nonprofit organizations committed to strengthening civic life in the U.S. by increasing the quality of civics education in our nation's schools and by improving accessibility to high-quality, no-cost learning materials.”

In our 50 states, there’s no question that Americans’ civic knowledge is far below what we would hope it to be. The competition for this education is corporate advertising, entertainment programs, social media and political shows/networks that do more to inflame than inform civic distrust. With these distractions, it's difficult to get citizens' interest in knowing how their government operates.

The movement for change needs strong messaging, grassroots support, innovative thinking and the help of some deep-pocketed individuals and organizations. Who’s ready to step up?

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