Something you don't hear much about anymore in American classrooms is "Civics" which was intended to teach the basic duties and responsibilities of citizens. Sometimes the class was called "American Government" as well. Regardless, the intent was to teach the mechanics of our government and citizenship. Unfortunately, you don't hear too much about Civics anymore, which is a pity as I believe there are a lot of people operating without even a basic understanding of what is going on in this country. This is why I believe everyone should be certified to be a citizen rather than just by birth right.
In my Civics class, we discussed the various branches and levels of government, how legislation was processed, serving on juries, and of course the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution. The Declaration is a pretty impressive document, but to me, the Constitution is one of the most brilliant inventions ever devised by man, particularly when you consider the political climate of the time when it was written. Its three branches of government, with its checks and balances, was a bold experiment, yet, when you read it, you are struck by the simple common sense embodied within it.
James Madison is generally regarded as the "Father of the Constitution" as he took the lead in its development. Madison's education concentrated on such subjects as languages, philosophy, and speech. His studies also included a few law classes, but he never gained admission to the bar. So, here you have the principal author of our government's most important document who is more skilled in communications than in law. This is in sharp contrast to today's Congressmen who are more likely to be lawyers as opposed to any other occupation. Consider this, the original U.S. Constitution was written on just four pages, less the Bill of Rights which was handled separately. Admittedly, these were rather large pages by today's standards, but it was still four pages in length. Compare this to the recent Health Insurance Reform Bill which was over 2,000 pages long; even the summary was 121 pages. It kind of makes you wonder what today's Congress would have produced had they been charged with Madison's responsibility. I can't help but believe I would prefer the simplicity and directness of Madison's version instead.
As an aside, I find it rather strange the Constitution has become an icon associated with conservatism in this country. It should be a symbol for all of us.
One of the most important lessons stressed in my Civics class was the need for people to become active and responsible citizens. It didn't preach disobedience, treachery or anarchy, although this was certainly described. Instead, it discussed the duties of the citizens such as enacting changes through peaceful means, e.g., the ballot box. When I go to my polling station today, I get the uneasy feeling that a lot of people do not know what they're doing there and what they should be voting for or against. To me, this is downright scary.
As I've mentioned in the past, people take their civic responsibilities too lightly. Most are uneducated. In the absence of a bona fide Civics class, people should be required to at least pass the citizenship test as published by the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
More than anything, our Civics class taught us that citizenship is something to be prized, and not taken for granted. Unfortunately, I don't think it's this way anymore, which is why we have a general flippant attitude towards government and a belief that "someone else is pulling the strings." Interestingly, it is the American public that still pulls the strings, but with the passing of such things as Civic classes, we've forgotten how to do it.
Keep the Faith!
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Tim Bryce is the Managing Director of M. Bryce & Associates (MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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