Tipping the hat to all the veterans
Today is Veteran’s Day in the United States and the president — apparently no longer particularly mindful of the optics of his role as commander-in-chief — is in China. Since both my father and my father-in-law were officers in the U.S. Armed Forces, and my brother is a U.S. Naval Academy graduate, maybe I am just unusually sensitive to the way this administration treats our military.
It is also one week after the election and these two things are very much on my mind as I listen to the public remarks by the Starbucks CEO about what we need to remember about why we celebrate people who give up major chunks of their lives to protect every American’s rights to basic and essential freedoms.
Over the summer I attended the annual meeting of the National Conference of State Legislators. This is an organization supported by state governments and the federal government, along with a few foundations, which helps the states by promoting best practices. It also lobbies for federal funds for infrastructure, criminal justice systems, health care benefits, water projects and so on.
One of the sessions I attended was about civic education, or more accurately, about the lack of it. It’s cute to point out that more Americans know the judges on American Idol than know justices on the U.S. Supreme Court, but the point is not about popular culture or widely shared knowledge. The point is that students in this country don’t know what the Supreme Court does. Practically the only people being taught how America was formed to govern itself are legal immigrants who have to take a test to become citizens. I have written in this space about the studies done by a Chicago foundation showing how few people on average can name even the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment.
So what do the young men and women signing up in our military today think they are fighting for? What did the 40 percent of eligible voters who bothered to exercise their franchise in the world’s oldest representative democracy think they were voting for last week? Not a society built on the U.S. Constitution, which is reportedly more difficult to hand out on campus nowadays than the Qur’an. The NCSL panel profiled a state program that spent millions of dollars to develop a citizenship curriculum, but attracted only a handful of teachers who wanted to preview it.
Why? Because the content was not included on standardized tests.
Many thanks and a salute to those of you who wore or are wearing the uniform of the United States of America. We owe you a big debt. My dad and father-in-law knew why they did it, and it wasn’t because of government benefits. There’s still a chance that young men and women signing up today can find out what is so valuable about us that it is worth working full-time to protect.
Hint: it does have something to do with the Constitution and voting.