Thomas Jefferson wrote that “any nation that expects to be both ignorant and free . . . expects what never was and never will be.” But today, our state and our country are suffering from the civic ignorance Jefferson feared.
Eighty percent of native-born Americans under the age of 45 cannot correctly answer six out of ten multiple questions from the USCIS Citizenship Test (six correct responses out of ten are required to pass). In contrast, over 90 percent of immigrants to this country pass the test the first time.
The fault for our civic illiteracy lies not with our students. They study what they are told, and exert themselves in accordance with the expectations placed upon them. The fault lies with those adults who have failed to do justice to the next generation.
To restore genuine civic education, we must follow the example provided us by the Declaration of Independence, which offers a justification for our separating ourselves from Great Britain, one borne out of “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind.” That is, the Declaration invites the world—and our students—to examine and debate its case for human equality, inalienable rights, government by consent, and the right to rebel. Such an education in the moral, political, and intellectual principles that serve as the foundation of our way of life is exactly what Jefferson envisioned for civic education in America. It also harmonizes with Abraham Lincoln’s call to teach “reverence” for the “Constitution and laws.”
Through allowing the primary texts of the Founding to speak to students, Texas education will nourish in them a sound understanding of why all human beings are equal, of why we are endowed with inalienable rights, and of why we are entitled to both government by consent as well as the right to rebel.
- Prioritize instruction in the founding documents in civics education in Texas: the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. and Texas Constitutions, Federalist 10 and 51, and the First Lincoln-Douglas debate.