This Is My Country, Part 1: Americans are Ignoramuses

5 Jul

My husband and I were doing something we frequently do together at home, fretting over the economy and trying not to spiral down into the deepest pit of depression where we decide it’s better to curse the darkness than light a single candle. The kids were around but I figured they were oblivious. They ignore us when we are talking to them, why wouldn’t they ignore us when we aren’t?

I realized that my daughter wasn’t just occupying the same space when I asked my husband, only half rhetorically, “How did we get here? How did the country get so screwed up so quickly?”

And my daughter said, “Obama.”

My brain did a whiplash U-turn from “Poor us! We’re going to hell in a hand basket” to “Who the hell told you it’s all Obama’s fault?”

“Who told you it’s all Obama’s fault?” I asked.

“Oh,” she giggled nervously, “he’s just the only one in government that I know.”

Skipping over the part where the federal government is completely responsible for everything wrong in my country presently, I said, “That’s the only person in government you know? What about your governor? Didn’t they teach you who’s Governor of Illinois?”

She avoided my gaze, shrugged her shoulders and asked, “Sarah Palin?”

“What!?” I asked? “Why would you think that Sarah Palin is Governor of Illinois?”

“That’s the only other name I know,” she said, laughing. I wasn’t sure if I should be relieved that Sarah Palin isn’t our Governor or appalled that my daughter doesn’t know anything other than Barack Obama is our president and therefore responsible for all that is wrong in it. This, after just completing fourth grade where the civics units covered the United States government.

Thinking my son might be a little more knowledgeable about his country’s government, I asked him who the Governor of Illinois is.

“Blagojevich?” I gave him points for naming someone who actually held the office, then probed his knowledge of our judicial system. I thought he might be able to name a Supreme Court justice or two since we’re on the heels of a significant and widely reported decision.

“Name a Justice of the Supreme Court,” I said.

“The Justice League?” he suggested.

I knew my country was filled with civic ignoramuses, but I didn’t know I was raising some. Our dinner table conversations aren’t always politically tinged, but my husband and I talk about all of the day’s news, not just how Katie Holmes should have seen it coming. That means Supreme Court decisions, drone bombings, Finnish family leave policies and the presidential election are hanging out there with who wants to see Brave and whether or not our son can go bowling that night.

American ignorance is legendary. I don’t need to recite the figures. You can read them here. We are the country, after all, that went to war in Iraq, looking for weapons of mass destruction that didn’t exist.

We are the people who demand more and more cheaper and cheaper stuff, then complain when the manufacturing jobs dry up and move where people will work for less than we will.

We are the people who are willing to send our sons and daughters to pay in blood for freedom around the world, but won’t pay an extra penny in taxes to pay for their deployment.

My vexation sloshes over onto Facebook, where I regularly correct people who post memes declaring that kids can’t pray in school or recite the Pledge of Allegiance. I’m tired of explaining that it’s perfectly ok to cross yourself before a test and pray you get a good grade, but it’s not ok for the teacher to cross herself before a test and lead the class in prayer. I’m tired of explaining this to people who would be first in line at the principal’s office if a student did her private prayer on her knees and wearing a hijab. I’m tired of explaining this to people who wouldn’t want their child taught by a teacher who doesn’t recite the Pledge of Allegiance because of the “under God” part.

Yes, I realize I sound tremendously judgmental and arrogant. I can’t help myself, though, because I love my country and the principles on which it was founded. I love our get-it-done approach and our generosity. I even love our naïveté, the way so many of us think that if you can dream it, you can be it. We’re the Nike country, ignoring the subtleties and attacking every problem with a “Just do it” bravado. But we’re youngsters, isolated for so long, and now more than ever immersed in world of interrelated complexities.

We went to the fireworks this year with our daughter. In our town, one of the local radio stations puts together a soundtrack to play along with the display. Lots of people watching the fireworks with us had tuned to that station, so we were all listening to the medley of America-themed songs, from Born in the USA to David Bowie’s Young American. When they got to The Guess Who’s American Woman, I leaned over to my husband and said, “Do they know this is an anti-America song?”

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20 Responses to “This Is My Country, Part 1: Americans are Ignoramuses”

  1. Frank McGee July 5, 2012 at 5:14 pm #

    “Young American” isn’t exactly the most flattering or patriotic song either. Nice blog entry, Janice. And I didn’t do to badly on the quiz. (Whew! Dodged that bullet!)

    • jmlindy422 July 5, 2012 at 5:19 pm #

      Born in the USA isn’t exactly a love song, either!

  2. twistingthreads July 5, 2012 at 6:29 pm #

    Ah, yes. Whether one loathes, loves, or feels ambivalent about a current president, it’s unfair to blame all of the countries ills or credit all of its successes to one person. He (or she) is not king of all, making choices and enforcing them across the board.

    I once got “unfriended” on Facebook because my husband politely replied to a friend’s post that he was pretty sure “God” was still in the Pledge of Allegiance when she posted a photo demanding that it should be put back in. If my “friend” had been capable of tolerating even the slightest suggestion that she might have been misinformed or that someone could disagree with her without cutting out any dissenting thought or the person who replied (and everyone associated with them) I might have been sorry to lose her. People who can’t agree to disagree or even associate with anyone who doesn’t endorse their entire perspective, however, are not missed. I prefer conversations and relationships with people who are able to handle interactions with people who are not necessarily ideological clones, so long as respect and tact are involved, of course.

    I consider myself depressingly ignorant when it comes to the inner workings of the government (I unfortunately missed much of government class due to illness), so it’s depressing when seemingly intelligent people rely on rhetoric and emotion to judge politics rather than checking to see what someone actually voted for before we vote for them (again). Perhaps we should just change the title of “President” to “National Scapegoat”.

    • jmlindy422 July 5, 2012 at 6:48 pm #

      Well, I’m pretty sure the job descriptions for President and Scapegoat are the same! I don’t know if anyone has unfriended me because of my political views and I agree with you that I’d rather be “friends” with people who can converse on issues rather than just spew their positions. I didn’t always care about government but somewhere along the line I became very interested in know exactly what I was doing when I voted. I think it was around the time I took a journalism law class. Then, a couple of years later, I read a book about the Supreme Court called, The Brethren. Great book.

      It’s pretty obvious what my political leanings are, but my husband and I have lots of friends on both sides of the aisle and have interesting and informative discussions about all of the issues. How else can I make sure I’m right and they are wrong!? 😉

  3. the circular runner July 5, 2012 at 7:49 pm #

    Lovely post! Sad as hell, though. I’m Liberal and I live in San Francisco, and I’m always getting in trouble because I, too, love this country and I admit that readily and often. Being the son of immigrants, I know this is a country that tries, even if it fails, to set itself apart by its laws and by its tradition. So I, like you, cringe at the idea that a young person is so woefully uneducated about our system of government. Though as a teacher, I come across a lot of ESL kids from China and I can tell you that they are pretty ignorant about their own country, about our country and about the world in general. And from what I can tell and from what I read, their friends back in China are just as hungry for cheap products as we are even if that means the environment is going to pot.

    All of this to say, that I share your concerns and I’ve just added to them, I think. Sorry. But, as long as I’m it, let me add this: when I’m not teaching some very very poor kids in SF, I make extra money, by tutoring some of the wealthiest among us, and I will tell you that those well-off kids are not ignorant. Even the weakest students among them know a lot–including that they will grow up to own the system because it can be bought and because the children of the lower economic classes do not know even the most basic facts about it.

    Sorry. I couldn’t help but put in a little plug for class-politics.

    • jmlindy422 July 5, 2012 at 11:05 pm #

      As a teacher, do you find that our social studies education is taking a beating in order to accommodate increased instruction in mathematics and reading? I do. Some teachers are able to make up for lost social studies time by having children read history and other social studies topics for reading, but there are districts in Illinois that won’t allow that. I am planning on addressing class politics soon. BTW, I “tutor” gifted and talented children of immigrants. It’s a wonderful job, but those kids are just as uneducated about the US, even though they were born here. Most of them don’t even realize they are American!

  4. SummerSolsticeGirl July 5, 2012 at 9:07 pm #

    Ignoramus. I learned that was a legit word in English just the other day. Funny. I recognized the meaning right away because of its Latin origin, didn’t have to ask for it.

    Great post!

    • jmlindy422 July 5, 2012 at 11:07 pm #

      Thank you! You are not an American! I can tell by the fact that you appear to have some training in Latin. We dumped that LONG ago!(I also have visited your blog, so that’s kind of cheating.)

      • SummerSolsticeGirl July 5, 2012 at 11:56 pm #

        HAHAHAHAHA

        I guess I’m not an ignoramus?… 😉

      • jmlindy422 July 6, 2012 at 8:32 am #

        Definitely not an ignoramus. But, since I am an American, I must be!

  5. Human In Recovery July 7, 2012 at 11:06 am #

    Just the other day I admitted my own ignorances and discussed the fact that those going through the approved and legal immigration process are currently the most passionate and knowledeable about American civics.

  6. nevercontrary July 7, 2012 at 5:33 pm #

    A Louisiana Legislator that passed a voucher system for state money to pay for kids private schooling just came out all outraged because she just realized that kids could go to muslim school with the money. And the kicker is the state should only be paying for the rightful religion christianity.

    The worst part the people who voted for her agree.

  7. Mary Rayis July 9, 2012 at 5:41 pm #

    One of my favorite features of “The Tonight Show” (when I used to watch it) was when Jay Leno would go out to the public and ask them very basic current events questions. The hilarity of the answers indicated that most people know next to nothing about the country and world in which they live.

    The issue mentioned above about the dwindling time devoted to social studies in school will only get worse as teachers, in fear of losing their jobs, increasingly teach to the myriad of standardized tests our governments somehow believe indicate how well students in the U.S. are learning.

    • jmlindy422 July 10, 2012 at 9:59 am #

      I get depressed when I think about what Americans don’t know when they go into a voting booth. The most frightening thing for me in the election cycle wasn’t Rick Santorum, but the fact that people thought Donald Trump would be a reasonable president because he’s run a business. Really? And a government is like a business in what way????

  8. Mad Queen Linda July 10, 2012 at 11:31 am #

    I would have changed one thing about this post — to move the second to last paragraph much closer to the beginning. Whether about politics, kids, work, or life in general, acknowledging positive aspects at the outset before the unhappy facts to follow seems to make swallowing a rather bitter medicine a bit easier. This could be simply my personal preference.

    • jmlindy422 July 10, 2012 at 11:50 am #

      Hm…..but I am not easily a positive person! Thanks for the critique.

  9. Ashley Austrew July 11, 2012 at 3:39 pm #

    I loved this post! I don’t know if people were always this ignorant or if the internet has just finally brought some much needed attention to the problem.

    My husband works for a company that programs the voting machines that get used in elections throughout the state of Texas. We’re both pretty politically informed and involved people. It makes me so upset when my husband is working overtime for school board elections, city council elections, state elections, etc. and no one shows up to vote. Real change happens in these elections, but no one cares. I don’t expect everyone to be able to name their school board off the top of their head, but most people I know don’t even know who represents them in the Senate. No one has any idea what is going on unless it’s a presidential election, and even then whether or not they really know anything is anyone’s guess. When we had our primary, only 3% of registered Democrats and 10% of registered republicans in the state voted. I know SO many Democrats who just simply don’t vote because “it doesn’t count anyway.” I can’t help but think it might count for something if all the Democrats who live in this state actually showed up rather than making excuses for why they can’t be bothered to help decide who represents them. They said on the news that if just 2% more Democrats had showed up, that would have meant 280,000 more votes. That’s a big deal!

    Anyway, all that to say I agree with you, and it makes me furious sometimes.

    • jmlindy422 July 11, 2012 at 4:03 pm #

      Ashley, furious is my middle name! No, really, it’s Marie, but wouldn’t it be great if it were furious? I’m appalled at how many people don’t vote in America; it’s such a gift! And, when people say “it doesn’t count” I just want to smack ’em upside the head. No, it doesn’t count if you don’t do it. Sigh.

  10. philosophermouseofthehedge July 12, 2012 at 6:51 pm #

    We are so close to the saying “people get the government that they deserve.”
    Without an interest and understanding of history and how government works, elections are more of a popularity/ beauty contest…eerily getting close to toddlers and tiaras.
    Quite a mess.

    • jmlindy422 July 12, 2012 at 8:13 pm #

      Oh, I love the toddlers and tiaras analogy! I think I’d rather vote for my kids than who we have available to us. Thanks for the drop-by. I’ve got a bunch of your posts to catch up on.

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