By Steve Gunn

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – We have great cause to worry as a nation.

We’re losing a sense of who were are, where we came from, what we stand for, and how we make national decisions.

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For instance, a recent survey conducted by the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania found that just 38 percent of respondents could name all three constitutional branches of the federal government, and one-third of respondents failed to name even a single branch.

Florida lawmakers have decided to address this serious problem in a no-nonsense manner. By the 2014-15 school year, middle school students will have to pass an end-of-course American Civics exam to move on to high school.

The new rule sailed through the Florida legislature without opposition from either political party, according to a story published by the Tampa Tribune. We certainly understand why.

Democracy requires the participation of a knowledgable public. A population that doesn’t understand how our system works, or why it’s designed a certain way, is far more likely to let our unique form of self-government slip away.

And our current population is frighteningly ingorant. Here are a few more findings from the Annenberg Center survey:

More than half of respondents thought the U.S. Constitution was signed in 1776, which, of course, if false. Only 13 percent realized the Constitution was signed in 1787, following a short period of weak national government under the Articles of Confederation.

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Twice as many respondents were able to name a judge on the television show “American Idol” than name a single justice of the United States Supreme Court.


One concerned parent quoted by the Tribune said she feared students won’t be interested in Civics, won’t want to study it and may have trouble passing the exam.

Perhaps that parent should make sure her child does Civics homework after school, whether the child wants to or not. Do modern parents really give kids a choice about what to study and when? If I had that option at 14, I wouldn’t have studied much of anything. Thank goodness my parents cared enough to make me hit the books, even for subjects that bored me.

Civics is not a difficult subject, and most kids should be able to pick up the basics if they pay attention.

We’re guessing that the risk of getting stuck in middle school another year, when all of their friends are promoted to high school, should be enough incentive for most kids to learn what the president, Congress and Supreme Court do, and how they interact.

It’s not asking too much of them.