Sen. Robert Ford would like to ask you a few questions. Don't be nervous; these are just a few simple facts that any American should know.
It's nothing difficult like, say, "What is the Bush doctrine?" You're not running for president or anything.
What year was the United States founded?
Could you find the United States on a map? How about Iraq?
How many votes does South Carolina have in the Electoral College?
Do you know what the Electoral College is?
How good is its football team this year?
It's a little scary how many folks don't know these things. For all the people who can rattle off stats from last week's Clemson game, or tell you how many ways Waffle House fixes hash browns, Ford says there is a frightening number of people who don't know much about history. Or government. Can't name their county council representative, more than two members of the state Legislature or explain the line of succession for president.
He knows, because he's been going around the state asking folks these things for the last month. A lot of politicians and educators don't even know this stuff.
"When you've got immigrants in South Carolina that probably know more than 90 percent of the people, that's totally ridiculous," Ford says.
That's why he wants to reintroduce civics class in public schools. He plans to sponsor legislation in the upcoming session that would require schools to teach a full semester of civics in the fifth grade, the eighth grade and the 11th grade.
This all started when Ford drove to Denver for the Democratic National Convention. Stopping for gas somewhere in Kansas, he asked a couple of locals how many electors their state had in the Electoral College.
They didn't have the first clue. The answer, by the way, is six — two less than South Carolina. Each state gets as many electors as it has members of the House and Senate. The Palmetto State has eight.
Ford started his polling at the convention, and didn't exactly find a wealth of knowledge among people who are supposed to be engaged in the process. When he came back home, he started up again. It got depressing.
Ford subscribes to the simple theory that people have a responsibility to know something about their country. The U.S. government requires citizenship tests for immigrants, but never makes the natives put pen to paper and answer little things like when was The Star-Spangled Banner written, and why?
And don't get him started on state capitals, or even states, much less the world map. People not only can't find foreign countries, they sometimes don't even know where they are. He believes that before people get all hopped up to wipe a country off the map, they ought to first be able to find it on a map (if you think about it, that could avoid some fairly embarrassing gaffes).
Charleston County Schools Superintendent Nancy McGinley was among a group of folks quizzed by Ford recently. She recalls with some amusement the question about "when was the U.S. founded?" and someone blurting out the obvious answer — 1776 — only to have Ford argue that the country wasn't official until after the Revolutionary War (1783), and after the Constitution was adopted (1787).
McGinley says she knows from teaching at the college level that a lot of folks are not exactly wizards when it comes to the map. Geography is apparently not something that sticks with folks.
Ford's crusade is going to prompt some interesting debate next year. Right now, the state does teach civics — but it doesn't have a class that goes by that quaint old name.
According to Ann Birdseye, interim executive director of curriculum and instruction at Charleston County schools, kids have the basic concepts of civics embedded in various history, geography, political science, government and economics classes they take at various points between kindergarten and 12th grade.
The state also is considering an exit test for school kids to make sure they don't go out in the world and become the next Miss Teen South Carolina.
But Ford doesn't even fault Miss Teen, who said simplistically that one-fifth of Americans can't find the United States on a map because, well, they don't have maps.
There is a surreal logic there, but Ford says "that's not her fault. Her problem was that she kept on talking."
These days, there are far too many folks talking about things they don't really know anything about. And you don't need a map to find them.
Reach Brian Hicks at 937-5561 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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