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Civics education hasn’t been a top priority in most Canadian schools for years. While that’s hardly front page news, the bigger concern is that we understand very little about what our nation is and the foundations upon which it was built.

The evidence? In December 2008, Dominion Institute/Ipsos Reid conducted a survey of 1,070 Canadians. The respondents revealed that 75 percent believed our head of state was either the prime minister or Governor General. It’s the Queen, ladies and gentlemen – and only 24 percent actually knew this!

Meanwhile, only 59 percent knew Canada’s system of government is a constitutional monarchy. And 51 percent incorrectly believed voters directly elect the prime minister.

Have these numbers improved in nearly a decade? I strongly doubt it and smaller studies don’t seem to show it.

If this downward trend continues, Canadians could eventually reach the horrifying lack of understanding that Americans have about their country.

The University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center recently released its annual Constitution Day Civics Survey. Its main finding was that “Many Americans are poorly informed about basic constitutional provisions.”

The results are extremely disappointing.

  • 53 percent of Americans polled “incorrectly think it’s accurate to say that immigrants who are here illegally do not have any rights under the U.S. Constitution.”
  • 37 percent of respondents “can’t name any of the rights guaranteed under the First Amendment.”
  • Only 26 percent “can name all three branches of government,” while an astonishing 33 percent “could not name any of the three branches, the same as in 2011.”

It’s mind-boggling that a third of Americans don’t know something as simple as the three branches of their government (executive, legislative and judicial). If this is true, children (and adults) need to sit down and learn a great deal more about the U.S. Constitution.

This goes much further than simply buying a book about the founding fathers to put on a bookshelf or coffee table to impress guests. Surfing the Internet to gather some rudimentary information won’t do the trick, either.

Rather, the U.S. needs a massive refresher in civics education.

It’s important to start with the preamble to the Constitution: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, ensure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

From there, the seven articles of the constitution provide the framework for understanding how the U.S. government operates on a daily basis. This includes the powers held by the legislative branch (Article 1), executive branch (Article 2) and judicial branch (Article 3).

Americans also need to get a better understanding of the Bill of Rights.

This document contains the 27 amendments that, to paraphrase a certain U.S. president who often likes to (ahem) trump the daily news, make America great. In particular, the original 10 amendments examine important issues such as free speech and a free press (First Amendment), the right to keep and bear arms (Second Amendment) and the right to due process in a court of law (Fifth Amendment). 

Finally, it’s high time all U.S. states emphasize civics education in their schools once more. There should be a mandatory civics course for all students, so they can learn more about these issues – and, hopefully, speak about them with family and friends at the dinner table or coffee shop. This would help ensure the next generation of Americans, and all future generations, have a better understanding of their rights and freedoms.

Canada should do the same when it comes to civics education. We should aim for better results that all Canadians could be proud of. Even our head of state in Buckingham Palace would surely agree.

Michael Taube, a Troy Media syndicated columnist and political commentator, was a speechwriter for former Prime Minister Stephen Harper. He holds a master’s degree in comparative politics from the London School of Economics.

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