By Chloe Olsen, Class of 2021

Dinner is served, and the powers of the government are hungry. As politicians eagerly lift the lid from the silver platter, there lie your rights. All the worse, you, the server, did not look under the lid before you inadvertently surrendered your freedom to the mouths of tyrants. 

Many Americans are ignorant of what the Constitution means, or even what it says, for that matter. Over half of U.S. citizens have admitted to never laying eyes on the Constitution, the document that secures our rights and limits governmental powers. Americans either do not realize that the Constitution is the electric fence between tyranny and liberty, or they misinterpret usurpations of rights as harmless acts. 

When the government attempts to abuse its power, it is not always obvious. Rather, abuse of power and violation of rights are often under the nose, masked as a necessity for the “common good.” For this reason, many citizens fall prey to subtle attacks of freedom, unable to recognize tyranny for what it truly is. Here emerges the urgency of a proper civics education. Our country’s lack of civics education has raised generations of Americans who do not know the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment or even what the three branches of government are. If we come to understand the Constitution and the way our government functions, however, we will be armed to defend our rights.

Providence seniors take Mr. Rottman’s U.S. Government course, which includes an in-depth study of the Constitution. Considering the seniors have not yet taken economics or even completed their U.S. Government class, the contrast between the knowledge of these high school students and average Americans is jarring. Providence seniors were asked a series of questions regarding the Constitution, and the results were compared to those of American polls. 

When Americans were asked, “Which five rights are guaranteed by the First Amendment?” a mere 3% could list all five, while nearly 71% of Providence seniors answered correctly. In answering another question, 79% of seniors knew that the Senate confirms Supreme Court nominees while only 30% of Americans answered correctly. The percentage of seniors’ accuracy in answering these constitutional-knowledge questions was markedly higher than the average American for each of six factual questions. 

When asked more subjective questions, the stark contrast of results continued; 36% of Providence seniors believe that the minimum wage should be reduced or eliminated, while only 5% of Americans agree (and this is before those seniors have experienced their AP microeconomics course). When looking at the topic of minimum wage, Americans tend to view it as an equality or general welfare issue rather than a freedom issue. That said, a comprehensive knowledge of Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution would clarify whether or not federal minimum wage laws are constitutional and squash misunderstandings. 

As seen by the comparison of constitutional quiz results, proper civics education is imperative to the basic and necessary knowledge of rights. The Declaration of Independence states that the function of government is to secure our rights. Public comprehension of the Constitution is remarkably poor, and civics engagement is at an all-time low. Providence combats these dangers to our republic by preparing students to be both informed and engaged citizens. By the time they graduate high school, Providence students likely have a greater understanding of the constitution than 99% of Americans. 

Bereft of civic knowledge, Americans will be ill-equipped to defend our unique system.  Attacking the erosion of Americans’ rights at its roots requires sufficient education on the Constitution for Americans of all ages. The more we are unable to identify the powers governments have and the rights you have, the more we hand the ability to violate those rights to the government on a silver platter. Once our rights are seized by the unrelenting jaws of politicians, it is difficult to restore them or prevent more from being devoured. 

Let not the discovery of our rights occur as we read their names in an obituary. Providence equips students to understand their freedoms, so that they can guard these rights against disguised threats—before it’s too late.