Civics and Schoolhouse Rock

It's pretty rare that twice in the course of a day the subject of Schoolhouse Rock - the Saturday morning animated education series from the mid 70's-80's - would come up, and for completely unrelated reasons. Specifically, "I'm Just a Bill" from 1975, covered the workings of Congress in a cute, two or so minute cartoon. The first reference was from our team leader who'd watched some of the series on DVD over the weekend. The other reference was in an article about a recent poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation on what Americans know about the status of the Affordable Care Act (health reform).

Working in Public Affairs, you tend to think everyone is interested in or knowledgeable about the workings of government. Few things have taken up more air time than the debates on the pros and cons of health care reform and the sweeping legislation passed last year. But it turns out, a lot of the people in the poll are wrong about the outcome, or they just don't care.

About 1-in-5 thinks the law was either repealed or just somehow is no longer a law. More than a quarter of respondents indicated they don't know or care.  That left over half who recognized it still is a law that's in effect. The head of the Kaiser Family Foundation mused that it sounds like rather than focus on just math and science, we need to make sure our schools are providing Civics lessons. Not a bad idea.

But we should remember that to many, the sausage-making in Washington, DC and our state capitals is pretty mundane. Every citizen should understand the process and every student should be taught the basics of state and federal civics and policy-making. But, as long as the Constitution and the Bill of Rights are used as political tools to defend or attack a chosen position - as seems to be the new norm - that's a good place to start the learning.

Knowing the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution is the best way to know if your rights are actually being trampled. And for politicos that are quick to claim they are students of the constitution or that something is "unconstitutional" - maybe we should ask them to at least name each of those first ten amendments.

I'm not sure I could do it, but I'm also not saying anything is unconstitutional. We should probably spend some time on "learning your states" while we're at it.