What is the first right granted by the U.S. Constitution that comes to your mind?
We’re in a sad state when 37 percent of Americans can’t name one. New polling finds that 25 percent of Americans can’t name any First Amendment rights while another 12 percent don’t know. The Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania probed over 1,000 U.S. adults over 18 on civics as part of an annual survey.
Of the more commonly known freedoms, almost half of respodnents named freedom of speech, 15 percent named freedom of religion, 14 percent named freedom of press, and 10 percent named the right to assemble.
Five percent of Americans incorrectly named the right to bear arms, which is a Second Amendment right, and two percent named “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” – a famous phrase from the Declaration of Independence, but not the U.S. Constitution.
A couple of other questions probed how much -if anything- respondents know about our branches of government. A third (33 percent) could not name one branch of government and only 26 percent named all three branches.
This polling comes at a critical time in our nation. Our populace is sharply divided over issues of race and gender. People are quick to pick up signs and march for the issues they care about or are against. Yet, how many of these people understand the principles undergirding our free society or know where they derive their rights of speech and assembly.
We shouldn’t be too surprised about the civic ignorance of the American population. The Department of Education’s national report card in 2015 found that only one in four eighth graders were proficient and above in civics.
UPenn officials behind the survey aptly observed:
"Protecting the rights guaranteed by the Constitution presupposes that we know what they are. The fact that many don't is worrisome," said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center (APPC) of the University of Pennsylvania. "These results emphasize the need for high-quality civics education in the schools and for press reporting that underscores the existence of constitutional protections."
As we shift away from U.S. history and government to embrace other disciplines, we're breeding civic ignorance among future generations.