Friday, July 11, 2008

Random Facts

Rick Shenkman is going to make a lot of money telling us how uneducated Americans are with his book Just How Stupid Are We? Facing the Truth About the American Voter. I'm definitely going to read it when I get my hands on it, because I have a sick fascination in regards to these kinds of things. I'm currently reading about how Americans know nothing about religion, so this will be a nice follow-up. Anyway, some helpful (ie, scary) facts were available from Shenkman's book, so I thought I'd share some of them as well as some from Stephen Prothero's book Religious Literacy, and then give my impression.

-Only 2 in 5 Americans can name the 3 branches of the federal government.
We need to start making School House Rock, and America Rock, required viewing. For everyone. Helpful songs talking about how the government is like a three-ring circus will definitely take care of that one, because this is absolutely appalling.

-Nearly half (49%) of Americans think the president has the authority to suspend the Constitution.
This one, I can give Americans some of the benefit of the doubt on. I mean, in recent times it has certainly begun to seem like the president can suspend rights and trample the safeties in place through the Constitution with nary a care or complaint being uttered. The recent FISA vote, the Patriot Act, and the president's blatant disregard for the law definitely lends to that impression. Also, they may be (hopefully) misremembering that Lincoln suspended Habeas Corpus during part of the Civil War, and thinking that was the whole Constitution.

-Only 1 in 7 Americans can find Iraq on a map.
This one doesn't shock me; I don't think many Americans could find many of the states in the Union on a map. My disillusionment comes from a trip to the midwest/west when I was 16; people asked me where I was from, I said Connecticut, and got a variety of responses ranging from "Is that a county?" to "Is that a country?" to "Is that a new state?" No, assholes; it is one of the original 13 colonies -and thus one of the original 13 states.

-Only 1/5 of Americans between the ages 18-34 bother to keep up with current events.
Well, duh.

Stephen Prothero gives me a couple great ones too:

-When questioned, American students would place Jesus' birth place as often in Jerusalem or Nazareth as in Bethlehem.
This one really depresses me, mostly because it is laid right out for people in the damn Christmas carols. "O Little Town of Bethlehem", anyone?

-Only 44% of born-again respondents correctly identified "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" as a quote from Sermon on the Mount, versus 37% of the broader group.
Christians don't know their Bible!

All of this makes me think of The West Wing; in a Thanksgiving episode, the Press Secretary CJ Cregg wants the President to pardon a turkey so he won't be eaten. The President responds that he doesn't have any real legal jurisdiction over birds, especially since this turkey has not been convicted of a crime. Leaving us with this:

CJ: Yes, I know that and you know that, but Morton Horn doesn't know that.

PRESIDENT: Who's Morton?

CJ: He's a high school kid from the turkey place.

PRESIDENT: He's in high school, and he doesn't know I can't pardon his turkey?

CJ: That's what I'm betting.

PRESIDENT: CJ, if we don't and I mean completely overhaul public education in this country...

That is where I stand right now. Kids don't know presidents can't pardon turkeys or suspend the Constitution. We need a complete overhaul of the public education system, and we need it fast. Because we are fast becoming the kid in the corner with the "Dunce" cap on while the rest of the world points and laughs.

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