A more perfect understanding

Published 9:32 pm Monday, February 10, 2014

One thing confirmed by survey after survey is that Americans have a shockingly low understanding of both the structure and historic foundations of their government.

Whether the questions ask respondents to name the role of the Declaration of Independence in today’s society, to name the freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment or to identify the three branches of federal government, the answers Americans from all walks of life are likely to give tend to reveal a broad lack of understanding about the government. Ask anything much more complex, and one is likely to encounter not just a lack of clear understanding but outright befuddlement.

Indeed, even in Washington, D.C., it is often unclear whether elected officials have even read the U.S. Constitution, much less put forth the effort to learn what the Founding Fathers had to say about their intentions with it or to develop a consistent philosophy of government based on its principles.


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Suffolk’s Andy Gist hopes to help counter the problem of ignorance regarding the nation’s founding documents during a series of discussions that begins tonight at 6:30 p.m. at Panera Bread on North Main Street. The “Principles of Freedom” group will read and discuss both the Declaration and the Constitution, and participants will spend some time talking about Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense,” one of the great works of literature that helped shape the discussion of the role of government during the Revolutionary Era. A more modern book, Willard Cleon Skousen’s “The 5,000-Year Leap,” will help frame the modern debate.

The group is intended to be nonpartisan, and there will be nothing to gain from it — no grades and no credit and no diploma — except for the joy of self-improvement and a better understanding of what the Founding Fathers had in mind when they constituted this great nation.

If it results in a widespread reassessment of the nation’s direction, that kind of understanding could be its own reward.

For more information about the group, call Gist at 285-2024.