Monday, February 21, 2005

Hunter S. Thompson, dead at 67. Civics is dead, too.

He shot himself. Hemingway did it, too. Hemingway shot himself in Idaho, Thompson shot himself in Colorado. Why? I guess the answer lies somewhere along the Idaho-Colorado border. So we'll never know, since Idaho and Colorado don't share a border.

This has me wondering: since Hunter S. Thompson was the inspiration for Garry Trudeau's character Duke, will Mr. Trudeau retire him in the wake of Thompson's death? Trudeau always said that he took Thompson's threats against his life seriously. I always wondered if they weren't really good chums, in reality. At any rate, it's safe to say that Trudeau has nothing more to worry about.

An interesting quote appears in the above-linked Yahoo article about Thompson. It's from Christopher Lehmann-Haupt of the New York Times, speculating on a theoretical "lapse into good taste" for Thomspon. Lehmann-Haupt writes, "That would be a shame, for while he doesn't see America as Grandma Moses depicted it, or the way they painted it for us in civics class, he does in his own mad way betray a profound democratic concern for the polity," he wrote. "And in its own mad way, it's damned refreshing."

I have nothing to say about Grandma Moses, but I do have something to say about civics classes. Maybe I should have nothing to say about them, since I've never had one, which is a problem. A problem for my generation and the subsequent generations that won't have civics classes. Really, I didn't actually understand how Congress worked until after college, when I finally did the research on my own. It was discussed in the social studies classes in high school, but that's about it. "Social studies" is an umbrella for history, geography and civics curricula, and by trying to serve all of them, it tends to fall short of adequacy.

We need to know what we're doing when we enter the voting booth! Children today should be taught civics. Simple enough. That won't necessarily raise a political conscience or even impress upon them the relevance of their votes, but it could teach them how to be a citizen, which would be wonderful, even if they never develop an interest in actually being one.

I believe that if my generation had had civics classes, George W. Bush would never have taken over the presidency. What further argument for them is even necessary?


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