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Idiocracy? Or educated electorate?

September 18, 2007|By SHOVAL RESNICK

"We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."

Today the U.S. Constitution is viewed as a symbol of American culture and effective democracy. Sept. 17 is the day set aside by Congress to honor the Constitution.

Most high schools require students to take a government class as a graduation requirement. But how much do Washington County students really know about the foundations laid by the Founders?

Seventeen students in Washington County - from E. Russell Hicks Middle School, South Hagerstown High School and North Hagerstown High School - were asked five relatively easy questions about our government.

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What document sets up the U.S. government? Answer: the Constitution. Six of the 17 answered correctly. Most common among the incorrect answers were "the Bill of Rights" and "the Declaration of Independence."

What is Federalism? Answer: a form of government in which the national and state governments share power - also referred to as a republic. One person was able to give an adequate response. Many of those polled simply said "I forget."

What is impeachment? Answer: the formal charging of an official with a crime. Impeachment can result in the official being removed from office, but that is only after the official has been convicted at a trial. One out of 17 respondents was correct in this. Most thought that impeachment meant removal from office, and most students mentioned only the president's removal. One person said it was "when the president is overthrown."

What is the Bill of Rights? Answer: the first 10 amendments to the Constitution. Six of the 17 were correct. Some said it was simply "something people go by" or something that "tells the peoples' rights." Though the rights of American citizens are specified in the Bill of Rights, rights are also specified in most of the remaining 17 amendments to the Constitution.

What is an amendment? Answer: a change made by addition, correction, or deletion to the Constitution. Four of the 17 answered correctly. Most thought an amendment was "a law," "a right" or "something that states your rights."

These 17 students are a small sample of America's youth, but if our students are representative, there's a clear trend. Teens, at least in our area, don't know much about the U.S. Constitution and the government it created.

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