EDITORIAL: Measuring civic health

Feds shouldn’t pay for unneeded propagandistic studies

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Voter surveys, the Tea Party movement and public demonstrations across the land make it clear Americans think something major is wrong in this country. Not to worry, the federal government is spending your cash to pay so-called volunteers to collect data to assess civic health. That’s hardly what the doctor ordered.

Such is the case with a report released in September by the taxpayer-funded Corporation for National and Community Service, which runs AmeriCorps, along with the congressionally chartered (but privately funded) National Conference on Citizenship. The Constitution was created to limit government, but here the state is paying “volunteers” to determine voting patterns and participation in other civic activities. Talk about mission creep.

The new report - “Civic Life in America: Key Findings on the Civil Health of the Nation” - isn’t needed because private organizations regularly do similar surveys without confiscating taxpayer funds. Last week, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) issued “High Schools, Civics and Citizenship: What Social Studies Teachers Think and Do.” Every year, the Intercollegiate Studies Institute produces a report that measures how well - or badly - students and recent graduates do on measures of civic literacy. Numerous studies like these provide fodder for social introspection and plenty of hand-wringing tax-free.

One major difference does emerge from bureaucrat-run projects. Private groups regularly find American schools doing a poor job preparing children for citizenship. The new government report, in contrast, finds everything hunky-dory - and oh-so-politically correct. Consider the first of the findings tabulated by AmeriCorps: “In the true spirit of America, every culture contributes to our society’s rich tapestry. In 2008, African-Americans led the way in voting, Caucasians in group membership and volunteering. Latinos were strong in neighborly activities, multi-racial citizens were the most politically active. …” This is transparent puffery more than profound analysis.

Compare what AEI found: “Only 20 percent of [civics] teachers put teaching key facts, dates and major events at the top of their list.” Half of civics teachers think it’s important students “internalize core values like tolerance and equality,” but only about 40 percent think it’s important to “understand the key principles of American government.” Among the key principles another 40 percent scoff at are “federalism, separation of powers and checks and balances” - in other words, all the things that keep government limited rather than all-powerful.

Knowledge is power. When the people don’t know much, it’s easier for the government leviathan to grow unchecked. It’s no surprise the feds commission studies to measure how the power grab is going.

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