ONE OF THE more disturbing news items to come across the wires in recent weeks was the annual poll of college freshmen, conducted by the University of California at Los Angeles for the American Council on Education.
Among all things, the poll said:
College freshmen don't vote as much today as they did in the 1960s.
They don't have as much interest in learning about government. Throughout the 1990s, the number who said it is important to keep abreast of politics dropped, with only 27 percent listing that as a priority.
They are interested only in getting a degree and getting out into the world and make more money.
OUR REPUBLIC faces profound problems if this trend continues.
Our country was founded more than 200 years ago by our forefathers who held strongly to the ideal that liberty was precious and that every generation must cherish it and defend it. That means everyone must take an interest in government. Continued freedom is not an automatic guarantee.
They held to the ideal of limited government and individual responsibility. This new experiment in government was not to be one of paternalism -- government taking care of its citizens -- but rather government doing for them only those things they could not do for themselves. That included such functions as national defense, border security, printing the currency and all of the powers enumerated in the Constitution.
Our nation has been blessed and has grown. Likewise, our government has grown and become unwieldy. At times it seems very distant and impossible to change. But that is not true.
WE HAVE THE best form of government in the world, but it can be changed -- if necessary -- through the ballot box rather than through bloodshed.
But each generation must understand and participate in its government and cherish its freedom or face the possibility of losing it.
As we have already seen over the last 70 years, our government has become more intrusive, more bureaucratic, more indifferent to the welfare of our citizens and, yes, even more oppressive.
Many of our laws today are made by bureaucrats who are appointed and not legislators who are elected. Government has become distant and callous.
TAKE THE tax system, as just one example. It is so complex that no one, not even the experts, truly understands it. For it to be enforced, the taxpayer must sacrifice significant privacy. As a result, citizens are governed by tax laws that they cannot understand or are needlessly burdensome, intrusive, costly and often unenforceable.
If the young generation of college freshmen is not willing to educate themselves and participate in the process of sustaining liberty, then such intrusion and oppressiveness will get worse. It probably is already far worse than our forefathers envisioned.
FINDING OUT what is going on in government is not a hard job in our free society, especially in the Internet age. Numerous news organizations and people gather, collect, edit and disseminate information about our government and public policy. They disseminate not only hard news, but also offer trends, statistics and interpretive information. But if people don't take the time to absorb and use this information, it is wasted.
I am reminded of the words of Edmund Burke: "For evil to triumph, all it takes is for good men to do nothing." How true this is!
Yet while this deplorable apathy has been surveyed at the college freshmen level, it obviously starts much earlier.
The problem begins in the home and continues through grade school and high school.
DO PARENTS discuss with their children such values as liberty, property rights, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, the free market and other constitutional principles like those embodied in the Bill of Rights? These are really quite simple if parents would take time to explain them to their children. Even something so simple as discussing current events over the dinner table can evoke debate and education on these fundamental principles. This was and is still done in our home.
We know that classes in civics, history and political science are taught in grade school and high school, but somehow they are not getting the job done -- as this survey poignantly reminds us. School administrators at both levels need to ask themselves some hard questions about the effectiveness of the classes they are teaching and the understanding and retention on the part of their graduated on these critical and most important matters.
MANKIND'S HISTORY is more about oppression than freedoms. Historian Arnold Toynbee said: "Of the 22 civilizations that have appeared in history, 19 of them collapsed when they reached the state the United States is now."
By revising apathy about our government, we can reverse our retreat from greatness.
THIS STUDY reveals serious problems that must be addressed by all of us.