Monday, October 27, 2008

What do you know about your government?

During my many years of teaching at Regis University here in Denver, I always started off each class with a brief questionnaire asking the students (mostly freshman) to list their federal senators, congressional representative, and governor. I would ask them to write about any Supreme Court case about which they had heard. For imaginary extra credit I asked them to identify their local state senator, house member, mayor and their council member. I asked them to tag one member of the current President’s cabinet and the Comptroller General of the United States. Who?

I asked them to recognize various names from recent American history: Cesar Chavez; Hubert Humphrey; Joe McCarthy; Adlai Stevenson; Arthur Goldberg; Rosa Parks; John Lindsey; John L. Lewis; Margaret Mead; Senator Hayakawa; Charles DeGalle; Emma Lazarus and lots of others. Students from California thought Cesar Chavez was a prize fighter. They were partially correct as there is a prize fighter there named, Julio Cesar Chavez. Students knew some of their elected officials by state. Identifying a cabinet member and the Comptroller received very low responses. Students complained that these people had died before “we were even born.” Many students could select Supreme Court cases they knew about, but not much detail. Over the years, the students who seemed to know the most about all these questions hailed from Chicago.

In a similar vein, I felt like Jay Leno recently when he does his “Jaywalking.” I asked people to tell me what they knew about the “electoral college.” Some of the answers caused me great laughter: “Is that where you are teaching now, since you left Regis? Isn’t that the group who elects the Pope?”

So I prepared a welcome piece for the DNC with a postcard showing how the nation’s electoral votes went in 1908. The other side of the card asked readers to calculate how each state’s electoral votes would go in our 2008 election. I called it the “Red and blue state challenge.” The deadline for the challenge is October 15th. The cards of those reckoning the correct totals each candidate receives from the November election will be placed in a bowl and the winning name will be drawn for two nights in Vail in winter or four nights in summer.

I send the “Red and Blue State Challenge” to city workers and was criticized. The nation is falling apart and Auditor Gallagher is playing tiddlywinks with city workers and giving them a pop quiz.

Peter McLaughlin, renowned motivational speaker who lives here in Denver, emailed me and told me to continue to bring some levity into the lives of city workers. “All the research shows that a little levity in the work place increases productivity.”

Some say our greatest threat is the economic crisis; others say our unconscionable debt or the foreign terrorists. I think the greatest threat to our Republic is the vast ignorance which our citizens show to our governmental structure and processes. Ben Franklin’s fateful words when asked after the meeting originally called to amend the Articles of Confederation. He was asked “What hath we wrought?” In today’s words: “What kind of government have we come up with, Mr. Franklin?” His answer: “A republic, if you can keep it.” I pray we will be able to keep the Republic and keep our people properly informed as to how a republic works.

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