One nation, undereducated about itself

In E Pluribus Unum, the Bradley Foundation questions whether Americans are learning about the ideas that hold us together as a nation.

While most U.S. citizens told a Harris poll that there is a unique American identity, a majority said it’s weakening.

And “even more troubling is that younger Americans – on whom our continued national identity depends – are less likely than older Americans to believe in a unique national identity or in a unique American culture.” Indeed only 45 percent of 18-34 year old Americans believe that the U.S. Constitution should trump international law in instances where there is a conflict.

The report calls for “a renewed focus on the teaching of American history” in K-12 schools and college, as well as a campaign “to ensure immigrants learn English, understand democratic institutions, and participate fully in the American way of life.”

Opposing multilingual ballots and bilingual classes, the report warns of disunity: “Historical ignorance, civic neglect and social fragmentation might achieve what a foreign invader could not.”

The report is too pessimistic, writes David Broder in the Washington Post.

What disturbs the Bradley scholars is evidence that our generation is failing to educate the next one on the essentials of the American experiment. “On the 2006 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Civics Test,” the report notes, “the majority of eighth graders could not explain the purpose of the Declaration of Independence. Only 5 percent of seniors could accurately describe the way presidential power can be checked by Congress and the Supreme Court.”

Broder sees “plenty of vitality in the American system,” citing the record turn-out of young voters this year and the willingness of young people to volunteer in their communities.

Like Broder, I see a lot of vitality in America. Most Americans and most immigrants share a set of values: We govern ourselves, we speak as we please, we worship as we please, we tolerate those who make different choices.

I do wish students learned more civics and history.

Have a festive Fourth of July. I’m going to a friend’s ranch to watch him drive his Sherman tank over a couple of junker cars.

Update: Choose an American future rather than a multicultural future, writes Roger Kimball on Pajamas Media.

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