Junkfood Science: July 4th — Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness

July 04, 2009

July 4th — Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness

This Independence Day is a good day to read the Declaration of Independence, signed by our Founding Fathers on July 4, 1776, and remember what this day means. Most importantly, to teach our children.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…

Most importantly, to teach our children. “An understanding of government and history are crucial to the preservation of liberty and our democratic institutions,” wrote Matthew Ladner, Ph.D., Vice President for Research at the Goldwater Institute. “A major justification for supporting a system of public schools has long been the promotion of a general civic knowledge necessary for a well informed citizenry.”

A test of civic knowledge was given to a representative sample of Arizona high school students, asked them ten questions from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services exam. This is the test administered to new immigrants in order to become U.S. citizens. More than 92 percent of first-time immigrants taking the exam pass.

These ten questions were the most basic imaginable. The results were released last week by the Goldwater Institute. Not one of 1,134 students answered all ten questions correctly, or nine questions correctly, or eight questions correctly. Less than 1% could answer seven questions correctly. Only 3.5 percent of public high school students could correctly answer even six of them, a score necessary to pass the basic citizenship test.

More than 96 percent of Arizona public high school students would get an F in Civics. The voting age is 18, but three out of four students don’t know the two parts of Congress, the Senate and House of Representatives; and three out of four don’t know that the President oversees the executive branch of the government.

Three out of four high school students didn’t know who was George Washington.

Three out of four high school students didn’t know who was Thomas Jefferson.

This study sounds an alarm, said the Goldwater Institute. Our Founding Fathers cautioned repeatedly that preserving individual liberties and a free society would only be possible with a well-informed citizenry that understood the virtues essential to preserving the Constitution.

Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government… Enlighten the people generally and tyranny and oppressions of body and mind will vanish like evil spirits at the dawn of day. — Thomas Jefferson

In the Declaration of Independence, individual rights is an absolute. The Founding Fathers strongly advocated reason. A population taught to think rationally is freer. An uneducated populace is more easily controlled, made to feel they are helpless and dependent, to doubt their own reason and their own worth, to be led to elevate the State above the individual, and to be oppressed. Education is a threat to power and control over individuals.

Thinking and reasoning are critical to preserving independence, as well as people’s autonomy over their own bodies and how they choose to live their lives. The problem is even bigger than not knowing basic civics and history, dooming future generations to not understanding the hard-learned, hard-fought lessons of history. When students don’t know how to read, don’t understand math or have basic scientific literacy (critical thinking and reasoning), the door is opened to pseudoscience and believing anything they are told.

When two thirds of high school juniors flunked the state’s math proficiency exams — which students are given three tries to pass in order to graduate from high school — what was the Minnesota legislature’s solution? They decided to ditch the requirement that students pass basic math and reading tests to receive a high school diploma.

In Florida’s DeSoto County schools, as few as 20 percent of high school sophomores passed basic reading proficiency tests. Less than one-third of North Port high school juniors passed basic science proficiency. Statewide, only 37 percent of Florida sophomore students performed at or above their grade level in reading and less than half in science.

It’s not the students’ fault, it’s the failure of adults. In Massachusetts, two-thirds of aspiring elementary school teachers failed the math section of the state’s teaching licensing exam. That state’s solution was to allow the 73% who flunked to still get teaching licenses. The teachers would then have five years to pass the test.

This Independence Day is a day to remind ourselves of the vision of our Founding Fathers and to begin by teaching our children well. Our Government was founded by thinking men for a single purpose: to protect and defend our inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It was a radical idea at that time and shouldn’t be today.

It’s a good day to read the Declaration of Independence.

Happy 4th of July!

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