Celebrate future Independence Days as informed citizens


Photo from Public Domain Photos

Bailey Vandiver

A few days after Fourth of July, nothing remains of the holiday celebrations except the occasional leftover firework set off at dusk.

Of course, on the Fourth, social media was filled with posts celebrating the birth of America. Posts depicted people in American flag swimwear on the lake, party food creatively cooked in red, white and blue or in the shape of the flag and endless Boomerangs of fireworks and sparklers.

The patriotism is admirable and just fun to take part in for the day.

But maybe we should be focusing on making sure American citizens actually know a little bit about what they’re celebrating.

A few Fourth of July posts gained attention not for their creativity or patriotism but for, well, their ignorance. One Instagram user’s post gained attention for the caption, “Happy 2017th birthday, America.” (Maybe he was kidding. Unsurprising, yet sad, if he wasn’t.)

NPR’s Twitter account received many angry replies for its 4th of July tweets, two of which were “it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government” and “A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.” Twitter users accused NPR of having an agenda, of encouraging violence, of being hacked or crazy and so on.

What these Twitter users didn’t realize is that NPR was tweeting, 140 characters at a time, the full transcript of the Declaration of Independence, the very document they were all celebrating.

To be fair, some of those excerpts are pretty obscure, and maybe harder to recognize. But shouldn’t the average American be able to put it together after several tweets in a row?

And if not, what are we doing wrong?

In my Kentucky school district, students took U.S. History three different times in their K-12 education, and UK has a UK Core requirement called Community, Culture and Citizenship in the USA.

It seems that Americans are exposed to the content of the history of their nation, but they don’t seem to be retaining it. A 2012 study conducted by the Center for the Study of the American Dream at Xavier University found that one in three U.S. citizens failed the civics part of the naturalization test. Approximately 97 percent of immigrants applying for citizenship, who likely did not take multiple American history courses throughout their lives, pass the test.

If exposure to the content isn’t the problem, it must be bad teachers… but that doesn’t make sense either. Not all teachers are great, but a few bad teachers can’t explain a historically illiterate country.

Perhaps the most logical explanation is that many students just don’t care about American history, at least not after they get their final report card. Then those students grow up into adults who think the tweeting of the Declaration of Independence is a call for rebellion in 2017.

This isn’t an easy problem to solve, but it is an important one. Because first of all, people should know how we got to where we are now. They, and society as a whole, become more educated. More importantly, people should be informed so they can learn from our past.

So first on the to-do list before next year’s firework show: Study up.