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From the Belle Tower

America, what branch of memory did you put civics in?

Celia Rivenbark

By Celia Rivenbark

Published Nov. 13, 2014

America, what branch of memory did you put civics in?

Here's a little something to keep you humble 'murica. According to a recent survey, only 36 percent of U.S. citizens can name all three branches of government. I shall now try to resist the urge to remind you they are, of course, the "Brie, the Cheddar & the Gouda" because that is making light of a very serious problem with the state of American education.

The Larry, the Curly and the Moe?

Of course, the correct answer is the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria.

OK, I'll stop. It's the executive, the legislative and the judicial.

I'm pretty sure. Because I learned this stuff back before "Common Core" standards and similar hijinks.

I've always known there were plenty of Americans who are walking around and even successfully breathing in and out who think the first president was Abraham Lincoln but, honestly, nearly two-thirds of the country not being able to answer a pretty basic civics exam question?

Of all the answers given, my favorite was: "the fire department, the police department and the post office."

While you could argue that those are quasi government agencies, you could also argue that tofu is delicious, so please just stop. The point is that we, as a nation, need an intervention of drunk-uncle proportions. We are just not very smart. No we is not. When somebody seriously believes the White House is in Boston (BOSTON!), as the astronauts always say in the space movies, "Dallas, we have a problem."

Geography has never been a particular U.S. strength. Back in Mrs. Redding's fifth grade, we were required to memorize all the state capitals. It was drilled into us so mercilessly that we would wake up screaming in our beds: "MONTPELIER!" 'FRANKFORT!" "CONCORD!"

I'm not saying that rote memorization is always a good thing but there are times it comes in handy.

As I have gracefully aged, I have come to understand perfectly how someone can say that an elderly relative in the nursing home has total recall of events from 50 years ago but can't recall what he or she had for breakfast. I had eggs. Wait. Oatmeal. No, definitely eggs. Grrrrr.

Thanks to the rote memorization tools of the past, I can name all the presidents and more than a few first ladies. When my time comes to ship off to the Gardens of Despair assisted living, I will be well-equipped to dazzle all the whippersnappers taking care of me with this knowledge. I'm sure they can't hardly wait.

So how do we fix this abysmal lack of knowledge of American history?

For starters, we should require every history student from middle school up to watch Ken Burns' 750-hour long docu-drama, "The Roosevelts," which recently wrapped up a 10-year run on PBS, a channel I had no idea was included in my cable package.

That's my big idea. If you have suggestions of your own, please write a letter and run over to the fire department to mail it.

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Celia Rivenbark is the author of seven humor collections.

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