Zappa,Schoolhouse Rock, and Groucho: Learning Civics Means Learning Everything is Not Political

“One of the things taken out of the curriculum was civics. Civics was a class that used to be required before you could graduate from high school. You were taught what was in the U.S. Constitution. And after all the student rebellions in the Sixties, civics was banished from the student curriculum and was replaced by something called social studies. Here we live in a country that has a fabulous constitution and all these guarantees, a contract between the citizens and the government – nobody knows what’s in it…And so, if you don’t know what your rights are, how can you stand up for them? And furthermore, if you don’t know what’s in the document, how can you care if someone is shredding it?”

-Frank Zappa

As long suffering readers probably know, I generally try to post just once a week on politics (The book reviews will return on Sundays – soon). But every so often, something occurs which allows me to deviate from my routine. So this morning it was Sally Kohn posted another amazing tweet.

You may remember Kohn from this pre-election gem:


(Really held up, hasn’t it?)

Well this morning, presumably because of everyone, especially on the left losing their minds over the latest Trump To-do, she posted this:


There are any number of amazing things wrong with the tweet. Especially coming from someone paid to give cogent and thoughtful opinions. Quick version of why this is assinine: the Constitution contemplates a circumstance where both the President and Vice President are unable to discharge the duties of the Presidency, see Amendments 20 and 25. The government has also enacted the Presidential Succession Act).

I was not the only one who noted the depressing lack of knowledge as to how the country is governed. And in response to one such tweet, I suggested:


Since Twitter only allows for 140 characters, I could not expound on it. But this is a platform where I can. And so I will. Let’s take them one by one

  1. Teach Civics in School

This brought to mind the Frank Zappa quote at the top. And Zappa was right: if you don’t know how the government works, you can defend you rights and you don’t know how things work.

Now I realize schools might have other problems, such as blocking the Secretary of Education from touring the place. Or maybe there is no one in the school that understands Civics. Fortunately, there is a Plan B: bring back the America episodes of School House Rock. The three four* most important episodes are

The Preamble– It gives a good primer on what America is and what it strives to be.

I’m Just a Bill – Folks seem to believe all you need to enact a law is a pen and a phone. Turns out there is a little more to it.

Three Ring Government – The government has three co-equal branches. This seems to have been forgotten.

I’m Gonna Send Your Vote to College – This episode explains how the Electoral College works and why there is no such thing as winner of the popular vote.

(*This episode was produced in 2002, for DVD reissue of the Schoolhouse Rock series. I had never heard of it until today.)

Bonus: I would also recommend The Great American Melting Pot. Both anti-immigration folk and multiculturalists would be better served understanding that America succeeds when immigrants are allowed to come into this country and assimilate into our culture.

  1. Explain the definition of “Unprecedented”

Despite what you may think, based on its use in the media, unprecedented is not synonymous with “stupid” or “ill-conceived”. What does it mean? Well, Merriam-Webster defines “Unprecedented” as “having no precedent:  novel, unexampled”.

Every day, some nitwit is claiming something the President has done is unprecedented. This is almost universally untrue. There is some precedent for he has done. For example, Trump’s attack on the Judge James Robart had numerous precedents. Here is a partial list of prior Presidents who have attacked the Judiciary:

  1. Jefferson, Thomas
  2. Jackson, Andrew
  3. Roosevelt, Franklin; and
  4. Obama, Barrack

The opinions of Justice Samuel Chase so upset Thomas Jefferson, the President had one of his Congressional Allies begin impeachment proceedings against the Supreme Court Justice. So, Trump calling Judge Robart “a so-called Judge” was stupid and ill-graced, but it wasn’t unprecedented, it merely joined a long line of anger from the Executive Branch at the Judicial Branch fulfilling its coequal obligations.

When it comes to politics, there is nothing new under the sun. The inability of folks to realize that there are many precedents in days of old to what is occurring today calls to mind a quote by Thomas Sowell:

One of the most important reasons for studying history is that virtually every stupid idea that is in vogue today has been tried before and proved disastrous before, time and again.

  1. Politics cease to be all consuming

Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.

-Groucho Marx

The problem with the Sally Kohns of the world is they see everything through the prism of politics. Not everything has to be political. Not everything is political. Not every work of fiction has to have a political message that your side is great and the other side is awful. That’s why movies such as Lions for Lambs and Miss Sloane bomb so badly. When comedy becomes nothing but political screeds against those you disagree with, people tune it out. That’s why Larry Wilmore’s Comedy Central show was cancelled.

(That’s not to say all fiction must be apolitical. Some works with political themes can be very good, with an author being compared favorably to Robert Heinlein. But I digress…)

The vast majority of people on this world know this. Enjoying football and MMA does not make you an uncultured mouth breather. People can vote for Trump and not be xenophobic, homophobic, misogynistic racists. People can dislike Trump without being anti-American. There is a whole great world of things to do out there that don’t involve politics.

For example, Pitcher and Catchers reported this week.


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