All posts by Dr. ESP

Will Civics Education Be Fiction?

In my previous blog, I expressed concern ideologues have hi-jacked the legitimate push for increased and, in some cases, mandatory civics education.  That is not my only fear.  Every day there is a news story that suggests even the most honest, well-intentioned efforts to expose students to the grand experiment we call the United States will be more akin to English Literature curriculum focused on 21st century fiction.  Consider the following examples.


Of the five restraints on Congress embedded in the First Amendment, James Madison, its principal author, opened, not with freedom of speech or the press, peaceful assembly or petition of grievances.  Instead, he chose religious freedom, ensuring Congress would “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” Any classroom discussion, hopefully, would inform students the framers were of various religious backgrounds, some of which were contrary to the tenets of the Church of England.  And many of the founding fathers, including Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, Madison and Monroe, were deists, who followed the natural laws of God but did not believe in a supernatural deity or the divinity of Jesus.

In the 1971 Supreme Court case Lemon v. Kurtzman, the justices, by an 8-1 vote, established a litmus test to determine whether a specific government policy or action unconstitutionally promotes religion.  The three conditions, all of which must be met, were:

  • Have a non-religious purpose;
  • Not end up promoting or favoring any set of religious beliefs; and
  • Not overly involve government with religion.

Some might argue the First Amendment applies specifically to Congress, not a state legislature.  That would be true prior to ratification of the 14th Amendment in 1868.  While Section 1 guarantees “equal protection of the laws” to all citizens, Section 5 gave Congress “the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.”  Subsequent Supreme Court decisions confirmed these provisions extend to state legislatures.

The word seems not to have reached the Lone Star state.  During the 2023 session of the Texas Legislature, the Senate passed SB1515, requiring public schools to display the Ten Commandments in every classroom.  The sponsor Phil King (R-Weatherford) said, “[The bill] will remind students all across Texas of the importance of the fundamental foundation of America.”  King, who earned a law degree from Texas Wesleyan University (founded by the Southern Methodist Episcopal Church in 1890), must have slept through his constitutional law class when they studied the Bill of Rights.

I will go out on a limb and guess the text of the “classroom Ten Commandments” would be that enshrined in the King James version of the Old Testament, as opposed to the language in the Torah, though the first four commandments in both clearly violate the Lemon v. Kurtzman test.  It unequivocally establishes the existence of a deity, prohibits an image or likenesses of deities (would that include the prophet Mohammed or the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel), requires a day of reference to a deity and prohibits vain use of the deity’s name.  The fourth commandment represents the most grievous violation of the First Amendment, declaring this deity to be “the Lord THY (my emphasis) God.”  Seems THY has no choice in the matter.

Fortunately, the Texas House rejected the bill, although Senator King promises to reintroduce the measure in the next session.  So there is still the possibility we will one day read a story in a Texas newspaper about a student being arrested for muttering “Jesus Christ” when his or her teacher announces a pop quiz.


Regardless of one’s personal perspective on the use of the filibuster in the legislative process, any discussion of the practice’s history and evolution should include South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond’s 24 hour 18 minute filibuster of the Civil Rights Act of 1957, the longest in U.S. Senate history.  In other words, students should understand that sometimes those who claim the filibuster exists to protect the rights of the minority depends on their definition of “minority.”  Except in Florida.  To do so, could put a teacher’s career and livelihood at risk under the Sunshine State’s 2022 “Stop WOKE Act.”

Fortunately, U.S. District Judge Mark E. Walker for the Northern District of Florida halted enforcement of the law, declaring it gave the state “…unfettered authority to muzzle its professors in the name of ‘freedom.’”  He described it as a form of “doublespeak,” a reference to George Orwell’s novel 1984.  Governor Ron DeSantis has, of course, pledged to appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court which even Judge Walker admitted might overrule him, noting, “The Supreme Court has never definitively proclaimed that ‘academic freedom’ is a stand-alone right protected by the First Amendment.”


Any course on Article III of the Constitution and the role of federal courts should expose students to the varying philosophies by which judges, and particularly Supreme Court justices, interpret the source document.  These include:

  • Textualism.  Reliance on the exact words and structure.
  • Originalism.  Its meaning at the time of its ratification.
  • Judicial Precedent. Takes into account prior decisions.
  • Pragmatism.  Takes into account practical consequences of a decision.

As we now know, there is a new theory which more appropriately could be called “Situational Interpretation.”  By this standard, a self-proclaimed textualist will support the principal concepts in Citizens United v. FEC that money equals speech and corporations are people.  I have been looking for that constitutional language since the 2010 decision without success.

Most recently, the originalists on the current high court have ignored the provision in Article III, Section 1, which states, “The Judges, both of the supreme and inferior Courts, shall hold their Offices during good Behaviour.”  And will Chief Justice Roberts and the originalist majority also ignore Section 4 of the 14th Amendment if President Biden invokes the provision which states, “The validity of the public debt of the United States shall not be questioned?”  The fact no president has challenged Congress’ power to prevent payment of constitutionally authorized expenditures seems to be a long-standing violation of the oath of office “to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

My point?  Civics lessons which rely solely on de jure provisions of America’s founding documents and subsequent laws differ significantly from their de facto implementation. If the civics education movement does not recognize these discrepancies, rather than informing students of their rights and obligations of citizenship, it will become just one more affirmation of the adage, “Watch what we say, not what we do.”

For what it’s worth.

ACTA Accordingly

 In a 1987 survey, about half of the American citizens polled thought that the phrase, “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs,” came from the U.S. Constitution. Regardless of what one thinks of that sentiment, it would improve political discourse to identify it correctly as classic Karl Marx. 

~Nick Down, Senior Program Officer, ACTA

The above quote comes from Mr. Down’s testimony in support of SB117 before the Ohio State Legislature.  If you are not familiar with ACTA (American Council of Trustees and Alumni), it is a non–profit organization which promotes “…academic excellence, academic freedom and accountability at America’s colleges and universities.”  Hard to argue with that in the abstract.  Unfortunately, Mr. Down seems to be the one who needs to be held accountable for his lack of academic excellence..

SB117 was introduced “to establish the Salmon P. Chase Center for Civics, Culture, and Society at the Ohio State University, to establish the Institute of American Constitutional Thought and Leadership at the University of Toledo, and to make an appropriation.”  As the holder of three degrees in political science, I welcome the idea that an understanding of the constitution, governance and civic responsibility is critical to any system based on the will of the governed.  Unfortunately, so many good ideas have been hijacked by ideologues, particular members of MAGA world, to justify actions contrary to the intended purpose of the original concept.

One way you can tell when such hijacking is in process is whether proponents of an initiative either exaggerate, misrepresent or outright lie about evidence supporting their position.  Which brings me back the opening quote and Mr. Down.  Since he did not identify the source of the 1987 survey, I tried to find it on the internet. I did find several other organizations which cited the 1987 survey.  Only one Education Week provided a link to the actual survey source, The Bill of Rights Institute.  However, any information about the survey had been removed from their website.

A 2001 survey commissioned by Columbia Law School is also cited as the source for claims similar to Mr. Down’s.  However, in June 14, 2002, Los Angeles Times reporter Tim Rutten suggests the results may not have been so clear cut.  The question did not ask if the phrase was in the Constitution.  It asked if the phrase “was or could have been written by the framers and included in the Constitution.”  You know who else COULD have thought “from each according to his ability…?”  Jesus.  Actually, he kind of did according to the gospels and the parable about the good Samaritan.”  Even though many of the founders were “deists” who did not believe the source of the Bible to be the divine word of God, they did advocate the values contained within.  

Finally, when you look at the actual survey results, you see how intellectually suspect the spin has become.  Thirty five percent said yes.  But we do not know if that response meant they thought the phrase was actually in the Constitution or whether the framers simply thought it might be a good idea for the haves to aid the have-nots.  Thirty one percent said no.  Were they referring solely to the document itself or, through some form of time-travel mental telepathy, included the founding fathers’ mindset?  The only intellectually honest respondents are the 34 percent who said “don’t know.”  There is no black-and-white answer to such an ambiguous and poorly constructed survey question.

Mr. Down does not stop there. He further bolsters his case using information from an ACTA commissioned survey that  “only 18% of college graduates identify James Madison as the ‘Father of the Constitution.'” The survey consisted of 15 multiple choice questions which you can still take on-line HERE.  The choices were:  Benjamin Franklin, Cassius Clay, Thomas Jefferson or James Madison.  The Constitution was the product of a Constitutional Convention consisting of 55 delegates appointed by the states (with the exception of Rhode Island which chose not to attend).  Should we really lose sleep if someone thought Benjamin Franklin, the oldest delegate at age 81, was the “Father of the Constitution?”  One would expect to see this question on Jeopardy instead of a civics quiz.

Civics is better served when we focus on institutions and processes, not personalities.  Take question #15, “Who is the current speaker of the House?”  Options:  Nancy Pelosi, Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan or Bernie Sanders.  Depending on the timing of the survey, either Paul Ryan or Nancy Pelosi COULD be correct.  If you take the survey now, the answer is the non-existent option  “None of the above.”

Here is a more recent example of the difference between a process and personalities.  Which would be a better question to gauge knowledge of the process by which we elect the president?  Question #1:  Who is the current president of the United States?  As of September 2022, 61 percent of Republicans still believed Donald Trump won the 2020 election (Monmouth University poll).  Question #2: Who certifies a state’s electoral college delegates and sends the winners’ names to Congress to be counted on January 6th?  Options:  Governor, Secretary of State, State Legislature or Varies by state law or constitution.

I raise the above question because several states besides Ohio are considering funding civics programs in K-12 schools and public universities.  The value of these programs, as is so often the case, depends on the motives of those promoting the programs. In my home state of Florida, the governor and state legislature are mandating civics education as long as the curriculum does not offend their base voters.  Civics education, especially in higher education, should promote Socratic dialogue, not lectures.  Imagine a political science course based on issues the framers addressed if the convention convened in 2023 instead of 1787.  If I were teaching that class, there would only be one requirement.  Any evidence provided to support a student’s position must be fact-based sans misinterpretation or ideological spin.

Unlike some of the arguments presented by the ACTA representative before the Ohio legislature.

For what it’s worth.


The Economics of Cable News

Guy Kawasaki, a member of the team at Apple that launched Mac computers, is a much sought after expert when it comes to identifying the target market for a new product.  In his book The Art of the Start, he tells aspiring entrepreneurs, “Do not try to be everything to everybody.”  The most successful products are those that half the market loves and half the market hates.  He uses the example of the Scion B (pictured here).  Some people thought it was the coolest thing on the road.  Others thought it looked like a refrigerator on wheels.

There is one other economic truth which applies to almost every industry.  It is dominated by three to five major players until a disruptor challenges the status quo.  Over time, the historically dominant organizations get comfortable with their standing and focus on incremental increases in market share.  They are more interested in capturing an additional percent of the market than titillating their customers’ imagination.  That attitude opens the door for the next disruptor.  Think of Apple and the computer industry, Skype versus traditional telephony or Tesla when it comes to automobiles.

Ironically, CNN was once that disruptor. On June 1, 1980, Ted Turner opened the news network’s first broadcast followed by an in depth Daniel Schorr interview with President Jimmy Carter.  It changed the future of media news.  Sound bites on 30-minute nightly news programs gave way to unedited interviews and speeches.  Twenty-four hours of programming made room for documentaries and feature stories.

Super-Hair Q&A: Lynne RussellIn an homage to the past, CNN launched CNN2, later renamed “CNN Headline News.”  Each half-hour consisted of an updated recap of the top stories, much like each network’s nightly news including a “just the facts” anchor, the most recognizable being Lynne Russell.  Today, Headline News is a second-tier extension of its older sister channel.  There is still a “CNN Headline News,” except now it is called “BBC World News” on BBC America.

Which brings me to CNN’s precipitous ratings catastrophe.  Like many disruptors who become dominant players in their field, CNN has violated both economic success principles laid out above.  First, it is trying to be everything to everybody. Though most American voters are said to be in the middle of the liberal-conservative spectrum, their news preferences are not.  Liberals/Democrats gravitate towards MSNBC;  members of the current incarnation of the GOP to Fox News. CNN’s most recent example of aiming for the middle is its decision to give Donald Trump an hour of free air-time.  However, the network’s efforts to give voice to pro-Trump perspectives dates back to 2016 when CNN hired former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski.  Followed by Trump Justice Department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores and former chief of staff to the Vice President Pence Marc Short.  What has this gotten CNN?  In August 2022, Trump assessed CNN’s attempt to lure conservative viewers.

It used to be a very important network. It used to be a very important platform, I think they’ve actually gotten worse.  I think it’s a whole big con job that they’re going to try to reach out and they’re going to try to get better. I think they’ve gotten worse.

Second, recent moves suggest CNN is more interested in stealing a ratings point here from MSNBC (luring away Capitol Hill correspondent and Way Too Early host Kasie Hunt) and another point there from Fox News (with the acquisition of Chris Wallace) than reasserting itself as the industry disruptor.  Even though it tried with the streaming service CNN+, which had a shorter shelf-life than unpasteurized milk.  Programming consisted of live news, original series and documentaries drawn from the library of parent company Warner Brothers Discovery.  It begged the question, “Which genius in the programming department thought viewers would pay an additional fee for streaming content when they were already paying for two 24/7 channels through cable subscriptions?”

There is room for innovation in the cable news industry.  One of the most read pages in USA Today is “News from Around Our 50 States.”  A broadcast equivalent might not deserve its own cable channel, but an hour per day of the premier story in each state would be a breathe of fresh air.  “Morning Joe” has toyed with the idea in a minimal way.  It now offers a two-three minute segment of local news from the front pages of papers around the country.

Sadly, as we learned from Dominion Voting Machines’ short-circuited defamation trial against Fox News, it was never about presenting the news.  It was about keeping those people who loved you happy and giving those who did not more reason to hate you. Guy Kawasaki would call that good business sense.  Edward R. Morrow and Walter Cronkite would ask, “Yes, but at what cost?”


Media continue to struggle with coverage of (using Nicolle Wallace’s description) “a twice-impeached, disgraced, indicted ex-president” who will say anything in public (on television and at rallies) but has refused to testify under oath in court.  May I suggest there should be a mandatory follow-up question on every occasion during which Trump spouts his lies and conspiracy theories.  “Mr. Trump, if you honestly believe that, why have you never been willing to say it under oath in a judicial proceeding subject to penalties for perjury?”

For what it’s worth.

Hell Freezes Over

WASHINGTON, D.C., April 26 – In an unexpected surprise announcement, Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), during questioning of American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten, suggested unwanted pregnancies should be terminated as opposed to being raised by women or men who were not their biological parents.

You probably missed this story because it is not true.  That is not EXACTLY what she said.  But she might as well have.  Here is what Greene actually did say to Weingarten during a hearing on the continuing effects of the coronavirus pandemic on students and teachers.

MTG: Are you a mother?

RW: I am a mother by marriage.  And my wife is here with me, so I’m really glad that she’s here.

MTG: I see.   People like you need to admit that you’re just a political activist, not a teacher, not a mother, and not a medical doctor.

Wait, is this is the same Marjorie Taylor Greene who claims there are thousands of adults, ready and willing to adopt the unwanted children the Supreme Court and GOP legislators demand must be carried to term?  Now she questions the ability of those same women and men to provide a caring and nurturing environment for these infants.  I normally would not risk “mansplaining” an issue to a member of the opposite sex, but in this case, I will make an exception.

Ms. Greene, the only thing EVERY biological mother has in common, is that they produced a child via intercourse.  There are no mandated eligibility criteria, background checks or required training to become a parent.  Think of it like the gun laws in your home state.  Fortunately, the overwhelming majority accept the responsibility from that act, providing a loving and safe environment for their offspring.  Some, however, do not fulfill that obligation resulting in the emotional or physical harm or even the death of an innocent child.  Do the names Susan Smith, Andrea Yates and Casey Anthony, all biological mothers, ring a bell?

In contrast, EVERY adoptive parent makes a conscious decision to take on the responsibilities of raising a child.  There are no “accidental adoptions.” They are subjected to background checks.  Have strangers scout out their homes to ensure the child will have a safe and healthy setting.  They often persevere through false starts or wait more than nine months to realize their dream.  Becoming an adoptive parent can be excruciating, which makes the rewards of success more cherished.

When the late Colin Powell founded America’s Promise, pulling together more than 400 private, non-profit and public sector partners “to improve the lives of children and youth,” he never talked about biology.  Instead, his goal was to ensure every boy and girl had a “responsible, caring adult in their lives.”

I will give former RNC chairman Michael Steele the last word. He posted the following response to Representative Greene on his Twitter page.

“…not a biological mother…?” Well @RepMTG, the woman who adopted me, cared for me, raised me, loved me, inspired me, disciplined me, educated me and at 95 still smiles when I walk in the room didn’t need biology to be my mother. #Adoption

For what it’s worth.

On the Beach

On the Beach (1959) - MoriaYou may recognize this picture as the final scene in Stanley Kramer’s 1959 adaptation of Nevil Shute’s novel On the Beach.  The book and film describe the aftermath following a nuclear war geographically isolated to the Northern Hemisphere.  Falsely believing the Southern Hemisphere will be spared, the commander of a U.S. nuclear submarine (portrayed by Gregory Peck) heads for Australia, only to learn that, within months, down under residents will also succumb to radiation poisoning.

The banner reading “There is still time…brother,” which appears several times throughout the movie, is erected by the Australian Salvation Army.  The message morphs over the course of the narrative.  At first it is a cry for sanity, urging a halt to the stockpiling of nuclear weapons. In the end, it is a call to residents to make peace with themselves and their deity of choice before they perish.

When I drafted last Saturday’s post about red flag laws, I was unaware of the execution style massacre of five members of a family in Cleveland, Texas.  It became the fifth incident in less than two weeks during which a gunman (yes, all males) shot at and wounded/killed someone who did nothing but make an honest mistake (e.g., getting into the wrong car or ringing the doorbell at the wrong house) or, in the most recent case, asked a neighbor  to curtail firing his rifle at night as the noise kept their infant child from falling asleep.

Which brings me back to On the Beach.  I now realize it is the perfect metaphor for the stockpiling of firearms, especially semi-automatic assault rifles, and the increasing probability that the slightest perceived offense will trigger the next mass shooting.  In this allegory, Texas, after El Paso, Uvalde and Cleveland, is the Northern Hemisphere, a hair trigger away from the apocalypse.  It has not happened yet, but sadly it is just a matter of time.  Teenagers, enjoying a day on South Padre Island, will be playing their music a bit to loud.  A young couple may be a little too affectionate in public.  A dog escapes its leash.  And a random stranger, after having one beer too many, will have ready access to the AR-15 he carries with him wherever he goes.  Within seconds the sand will be strewn with mutilated, unrecognizable bodies.

“Why do we let people carry a weapon of war to the beach,” an eyewitness will ask.  The NRA and gun manufacturers lobby will reply, “If only more good guys had guns, someone would have stopped him.”  Where have I heard that before.  Oh, right, we need to stockpile enough nuclear weapons to kill everyone on earth multiple times to ensure no one will use them.  It is called “mutual assured destruction.”  But all it takes is one error in judgment, miscalculation or system failure to become “assured destruction.”

“But that only happens in Texas,” you say.  Echoing the Australians in On the Beach, you add,  “I don’t live in Texas.  I can survive the fallout as long as it is not generated in my state.”  Not for long.  Assault weapons do not respect state lines.  They do not even respect international borders.  The Mexican foreign ministry estimates over 500,000 firearms, a majority of which are AR-15 style assault weapons, were purchased legally in Texas in 2022 and transported across the border.  They have become the major contributor to the wave of drug cartel violence, centered in Mexican states across the Rio Grande River from Texas

Instead of stemming the personal ownership of these weapons of war, many state legislatures make them easier to purchase and enable their presence in public places.  Politicians who defend the Second Amendment over the inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, glorify assault weapons in campaign ads and on Christmas cards.  Is this not the same strategy employed by nuclear powers that parade their warheads and delivery systems through the streets on national holidays?

Nevil Shute has given us a preview of what America will look like if our leaders refuse to act.  And reminds us, “There is still time…brother.”  We should listen.

For what it’s worth.