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The way to crush the middle class is to grind them between the millstones of taxation and inflation. – Vladimir Lenin

Top Colleges Rank Lowest on Civics Exams

Posted by iusbvision on October 9, 2006

I was having a nice chat with one of my favorite professors the other day about the state of academia. I mentioned that I have noticed that professors from some of the most prestigious schools tend to be more like blind ideologues and have weaker critical thinking skills than professors that hail from smaller schools. Now before everyone throws a fit, I can think of a couple of professors who I know that buck that trend, this was just a general observation I have noticed over time. Now I have some empirical evidence to back up that observation.

The Intercollegiate Studies Institute with the University of Connecticut tested 14,094 students at 50 universities with a 60 question civics exam with half of the students being freshman and the other half being seniors. The results were not encouraging. Not a single university’s seniors, based on an average score, passed the exam with what we at IUSB would consider a passing grade. Rhodes College of Memphis Tennessee scored the best with an average improvement of test score between freshman and seniors of 116 percent.

The most interesting results came from the list of universities where the freshman consistently out scored the seniors, meaning that the longer the students stayed at that university more ignorant of civics they became. Here are some of the results taken directly from the study:

– Seniors lack basic knowledge of America’s history. More than half, 53.4 percent, could not identify the correct century when the first American colony was established at Jamestown. And 55.4 percent could not recognize Yorktown as the battle that brought the American Revolution to an end (28 percent even thought the Civil War battle at Gettysburg was the correct answer).

– College seniors are also ignorant of America’s founding documents. Fewer than half, 47.9 percent, recognized that the line “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” is from the Declaration of Independence. And an overwhelming majority, 72.8 percent, could not correctly identify the source of the idea of “a wall of separation” between church and state.

– More than half of college seniors did not know that the Bill of Rights explicitly prohibits the establishment of an official religion for the United States.

– Nearly half of all college seniors, 49.4 percent, did not know that The Federalist Papers—foundational texts of America’s constitutional order—were written in support of the ratification of the U.S. Constitution. Seniors actually scored lower than freshmen on this question by 5.7 percentage points, illustrating negative learning while at college

– More than 75 percent of college seniors could not identify that the purpose of the Monroe Doctrine was to prevent foreign expansion in the Western Hemisphere.

– Even with their country at war in Iraq, fewer than half of seniors, 45.2 percent, could identify the Baath party as the main source of Saddam Hussein’s political support. In fact, 12.2 percent believed that Saddam Hussein found his most reliable supporters in the Communist Party. Almost 5.7 percent chose Israel.

I know that you are all eager to know what colleges did the worst when it comes to negative learning. Dartmouth actually showed an improvement of .1 percent of seniors over freshman. Johns Hopkins, University of California at Berkeley, Cornell, Brown, Duke, Yale, Georgetown, M. I. T., University of Chicago, and this one strikes close to home, University of Michigan, all displayed negative learning.

Students don’t learn what colleges don’t teach or teach poorly. Having done much research into the culture of academia at large, in my view this is no accident. What better way to destroy the ideas that America was founded upon than to forget them.

Chuck Norton
News Analyst




Heather Wilson: Our superficial scholars

The Chronicle: Students are failing to learn at college

Top Colleges Rank Lowest on Civics Exams

The “DUH” Generation




47 Responses to “Top Colleges Rank Lowest on Civics Exams”

  1. H. Scott said

    Speaking of critical thinking skills, how does the ISI report provide empirical evidence to back up Mr. Norton’s thesis: “I have noticed that professors from some of the most prestigious schools tend to be more like blind ideologues and have weaker critical thinking skills … Now I have some empirical evidence to back up that observation”?

    Is there a clear connection between knowledge of civics and critical thinking skills?


  2. Chuck Norton said

    H. Scott,

    I will have to tell you about a foolish prof I know who hails from one on that list of univerities that I quoted. . If I tell the story here the prof will be identified, so next time we talk I will tell you the story.

    Blind ideologues often do not teach civics properly, they have an agenda in the case of the progressive secular left that is designed to run down America and American culture in particular. This agenda when questioned is difficult for a professor to back up when critical thinking skills are applied.

    We have all seen the countless stories of teachers telling us how “evil” Christopher Columbus was, how founders like George Washington and such are evil hypocrites because they owned slaves, all the while not telling the students that Washington and other founders spent much of their lives going from state to state trying to get the slavery laws changed so that it was legal to free them.

    A loss of critical thinking skills happens when a professor stops challenging their own assumptions, after all most of the other profs who think just like they do pat them on the back and tell them how smart they are, so why should they challenge them when so many of the most “brilliant” people they know constantly reinforce their assumptions?

    I have had profs try to convince me that 9/11 was a part of a vast Jewish conspiracy, that Mayor Giuliani is a closet Nazi, and have seen some spin that Hezbollah are the near innocent victims if unwarranted “Israeli Aggression”. I have had professors try to convince me that those who put flags and magnets on their cars after September 11th were fake patriots who are nothing but shills for Bush and the war. I have had a professor tell me that I am out to impose a fascist theocratic state upon him and when challenged could not back up his assertions with any marginally effective reasoning skill. I have had students here at IUSB tell me that they have been taught that Indiana has more “right wing terrorists” than anywhere else, which was a surprise to me because the South Bend Tribune must have been slacking in covering all of those terrorist attacks. I have even had professors try to convince me, with very poor arguments in a dazzling display of some of the poorest critical thinking skills that I have ever seen, that we should take our economic theory from a man who squandered his inheritances and couldn’t balance a check book. I could go on and on.

    Indeed, poor critical thinking skills combined with hyper partisanship is THE prescription for professors who are blind ideologues and these are just the ones that often do not teach American Civics and history properly so that students have a more complete understanding of it, because if they did that, some students might just decide that they like what America is all about. Some of the blame also goes to poorly or agenda driven text books as well. These examples and countless others show that poor critical thinking skills, agendas, and the joke that civics education has become in this country are indeed connected.

    Almost every good professor I know has complained to me that students lack critical thinking skills. That problem has continued through college education and into academia. Many of the best profs I know, tell me that civics instruction is inadequate or near non-existent. I agree on both counts; my experiences validate these observations and studies like the ISI study over and over again.

    While there are many great profs out there, the great are not the majority. I dare say that the big picture indicates that the state of academia today is a disaster.

  3. Talia Reed said

    In my own rather small and humble college career, I have experienced some of this. It makes it very difficult to trust anything a professor tells you when you get a hint that it is all coming through a filter. And it doesn’t matter what type of ideologue that filter is. I hope as a teacher I will be able to keep my strogn political, moral, and religious beliefs from shaping the content. But in fairness, I think most of the professors I have had (granted this is red Indiana, at least in comparison)have not been fair and manage to keep things transparent.

  4. H. Scott said

    Neither the ISI report nor Mr. Norton’s “News Analysis” and subsequent elaboration lends support to his claim that “professors from some of the most prestigious schools tend to be more like blind ideologues and have weaker critical thinking skills than professors that hail from smaller schools”.

    Even the title of his piece is misleading: “Top Colleges Rank Lowest on Civics Exams”. Upon reading the actual ISI report and examining the data, the exact opposite of his claim is true. Whether one considers freshman or seniors, the “elite” schools consistently outscore “non-elite” schools. Some elite schools show a relatively high percentage drop between freshman and senior scores, but they still tend to outperform the other schools. There are many potential causes to explain this, but none supports his claim that faculty lack critical thinking skills due to an ideological bias. Nothing in the ISI report is relevant to critical thinking skills. Attempts to make such an absurd case through anecdotal examples of faculty making weak statements, attributable to poor critical thinking, are clearly based on Mr Norton’s own ideological bias.

    I doubt professors would agree that that Mr. Norton’s examples are contextually accurate and consonant with the intended meaning. Perhaps Mr. Norton will argue that the implicated faculty would change their story if put on the spot, yet that remains inconsistent with the following statement: “after all most of the other profs who think just like they do pat them on the back and tell them how smart they are, so why should they challenge them when so many of the most “brilliant” people they know constantly reinforce their assumptions”.

    Mr. Norton has taken partial statements out of context, whether or not he realizes it, and misrepresented them in order to unfairly criticize some members of the faculty. It is telling that he describes blind ideologue in the following fashion: “they have an agenda in the case of the progressive secular left that is designed to run down America and American culture in particular”. Does he have any real basis for this statement? Designed to run down America? Is he kidding?

    It is disturbing to see such a blatant misrepresentation of data being used to accuse faculty of blind ideology and poor critical thinking skills. Mr. Norton attempts to support a preconceived conclusion with the ISI report rather than interpreting the data honestly.

    This “News Analysis” is an excellent example of what he describes as blind ideological bias. His so-called “observations” are blinded by his own bias – to such a profound level, in fact, that he cannot manage to follow his own ideology.

  5. Chuck Norton said

    H. Scott,

    Instead of offering up the blanket condemnation, perhaps you would be interested in addressing the arguments I presented to you in my first response. It remonds me of the poll of professors at some of the biggest universities where leftist professors out number conservative or traditional professors 9-1 and claim that the students are getting a well balanced education when it comes to civics and politics.

    I am also not surprised that H. Scott has decided to blatently misrepresent my argument and completely fail to address my best arguments in my first response. Well you arent the first to dodge an argument of mine and you wont be the last.

    No where did I claim that this report is a 100% solid backup of my observations. It is clear to anyone who reads my article in context, without the ideological axe to grind that most leftist professors have, that the study is merely a cog in the wheel of the big picture. It is one small piece of empiracle evidence that fits into my observations. I did not say that it proved my observations, merely that it is one piece of emperical evidence in my corner. I would have elaboprated further but I was limited in word space.

    Also, your statement that I misrepresented the study is just not true. I made it clear in my article that the measure was the improvement or lack there of between freshman and seniors.

    Some schools like the University of Chicago had Freshman that scored 64.5% on the exam, and SENIORS that scored at 64.2% A DROP of .3%!!!!

    Now sure, some colleges that showed improvement started with Freshman with lower than 64.5%, but those colleges showed improvement with the Seniors, not a drop in performance. According to how you have presented the argument The University of Chicago is a better school than a college like Rhodes College that scored 50.6% with Freshman and 62.2% with Seniors..for an over 11% improvement … because after all U of Chicago ended up with a score of 64.2…….. even though their Seniors scored LOWER than the Freshman. ….. and you want to lecture me about misrepresentation….. wow.

    I understand that you are going to defend academia no matter what, except that you have one BIG problem…… look at those pathetic civics exam test scores, and all of the name calling, agenda hurling and protesting in the world wont change them….. a wholesale cleaning and restructure of academia at high school and the university level will.

  6. Craig Chamberlin said


    In all fairness H. Scott makes a very valid analysis of the article. The title “Top Colleges Rank Lowest On Civics Exams” does not appear to match the articles content. The top colleges actually ranked higher on those exams than other schools even though they show reverse-learning through the class years.

    I don’t know the improved education of civics would greatly enhance an individual’s critical thinking skills. One would think a philosophy class would improve decision making, but this obviously isn’t true either. Although there are teachers who fit the description you stated above, there are many who are the complete opposite. The moral of this story is not to always take information as it is given, even if it is from a teacher, scientist or many other reputable sources (Are you listening peers?). A stronger link between a lack of education in civics and an individuals critical thinking skills would help.

    I do agree civics is an important issue. Any American’s education should include a strong foundation of civics. This epidemic on education of our history will surely result in some loss and misrepresentation of its original foundations. Those who never learn history are doomed to repeat it. If the most prestigous schools have almost failed (got a D-) on the topic entirely, it raises concern.

    Reading of the fall in critical thinking skills, I think there is a deeper problem at play here. Critical Thinking is the act of constantly applying, conceptualizing, analyzing and evaluating new information as it is processed. The key word in this definition is information. Given the state of information overload in our society, is it bold to claim many in our generation may take information as it is initially portrayed? If I attempted to apply, conceptualize, analyze and evaluate every piece of information crossing my path daily I’d go insaine. This is not an attempt to excuse one for the lack of critical thinking skills, but it might explain some fraction of it.

  7. Chuck Norton said


    You have missed the point and have made the same mistake thet H. Scott has. Look at the nonsense that so many teachers push at students these days…. as I said in my first response –

    – QUOTE –
    I have had profs try to convince me that 9/11 was a part of a vast Jewish conspiracy, that Mayor Giuliani is a closet Nazi, and have seen some spin that Hezbollah are the near innocent victims if unwarranted “Israeli Aggression”. I have had professors try to convince me that those who put flags and magnets on their cars after September 11th were fake patriots who are nothing but shills for Bush and the war. I have had a professor tell me that I am out to impose a fascist theocratic state upon him and when challenged could not back up his assertions with any marginally effective reasoning skill. I have had students here at IUSB tell me that they have been taught that Indiana has more “right wing terrorists” than anywhere else, which was a surprise to me because the South Bend Tribune must have been slacking in covering all of those terrorist attacks. I have even had professors try to convince me, with very poor arguments in a dazzling display of some of the poorest critical thinking skills that I have ever seen, that we should take our economic theory from a man who squandered his inheritances and couldn’t balance a check book. I could go on and on. – END QUOTE –

    Anyone with decent critical thinking skills can see that what these professors above tried to teach is complete and total B. S. This is exactly where critical thinking skills, and civics mistaught with an agenda meets, yet both of you completely ignored my first response that answered H.Scotts objections. The only real problem with my article is that it was too short due to space restraints requiring me to further elaborate for those who couldnt get it.

    But what is interesting is that everyone I have talked to at school so far about this column DID get it, they understood from the article that the ISI study is just a piece of the puzzle and was never intended to be interpreted as all encompasing and that is why it was never presented that way (although it has been misrepresented to seem that way by H.Scott). They also understood the difference that just because a college inhertited some freshman who scored a little higher on the test, doesnt mean the college scored well when the seniors got beat by those incoming freshman.

    According to the argument you two just made, the success measure of how a college teaches should be judged by the score of the incoming freshman instead of how much the colleges actually taught those freshman to their senior year.

    I see that I must now point out what should be incredibly obvious; schools are measured by what they actually teach children, not by the children that they inherit before that college has taught them anything….. and that is obvious to anyone with better than marginal critical thinking skills. When colleges are ranked by what they actually taught students, those ivy league schools scored the lowest and that is what my title reflects (as my teenage daughter would say “duhhhhh”), to measure an institution’s success by the score of its incoming freshman is pure idiocy. I stand by my column and its title, because its dead on accurate.

    The San Francisco Gate saw it my way too as to the rankings

    and so did the Baltimore Sun

    – QUOTE –,0,7743838.story?coll=bal-local-headlines

    Hopkins seniors rank last in civics
    Poll suggests students not taking core studies

    By Gadi Dechter
    Sun Reporter

    September 27, 2006

    Students might learn how to be capable brain surgeons and rocket scientists at Johns Hopkins, but spending four years on the Homewood campus might also lead to a serious decline in their “civic literacy.” A lot of them evidently no longer know whether the Revolutionary War ended at Yorktown or the Alamo.

    Or so says a Delaware-based nonprofit that ranked the Baltimore school last out of 50 U.S. colleges in a survey of 14,000 students measuring how much they learned — or, in the case of Hopkins undergrads, forgot — about American history, economics, political philosophy and U.S. foreign relations during their bright college years.

    The study was commissioned by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, which advocates for a traditional curriculum on campus. It was designed and conducted by pollsters at the University of Connecticut’s Department of Public Policy.

    Half of the schools surveyed were randomly chosen to represent four-year institutions across the country, while the other 25 were selected for their elite status, based on measures such as U.S. News and World Report rankings, said pollster Christopher Barnes.

    “Hopkins was the only college or university in Maryland that we looked at,” said Josiah Bunting III, chairman of the institute’s National Civic Literacy Board and a former superintendent of the Virginia Military Institute. “It is a very well-regarded university all over the country, certainly by me.

    “But I think this shows,” Bunting added, “that for whatever reason, students at Hopkins, perhaps more than students at other schools, do not enroll or are not obliged to enroll in some of the traditional core staples of civic literacy subjects.”

    Hopkins students took an average of 2.9 history and political science courses during their senior year, according to the report, while those at top-ranked Rhodes College, a private, liberal arts school in Memphis, Tenn., averaged 4.2 such courses in their final year.

    Rhodes seniors averaged a 12 percent increase in civic literacy scores over their freshmen colleagues, while the scores of Hopkins seniors dipped 7.3 percent compared to first-year students.

    At the bottom of the rankings with Hopkins were other elite colleges such as Brown, Cornell, Duke, Yale and Georgetown universities. – END QUOTE –

  8. Ryan said

    Once again Chuck, you are your worst enemy. When asked for empirical evidence, you provide in your response to Mr Scott a list of your own incredibly biased anecdotes concernign a small few professors you have encountered. With that kind of evidence, I could demonstrate how all conservatives are racist klan members bent on turing the US into the 4th reich. Not saying this is true, just that i could pick the two or three I know of like this and spin the entire spectrum that way.

    How do you imagine anyone with any intelligence will take your article seriously when you are saying bias reduces critical thinking skills, and then follow up with a blind ideologue statement like this. “they have an agenda in the case of the progressive secular left that is designed to run down America and American culture in particular.” Your agenda is quite clearly that of a neo-conservative who desires to elminate critical thinking skills by discrediting those groups who tend to push for them. Sophistry at its irresponsible and incomprehensible finest.

    Now then, lets look at your study. Since you did not post a link to it, I had to hunt down info on it. A couple of things that cast some doubt on the supposed negative results of the data. Universities were selected in two fashions, 25 random smaller schools, then 25 hand-picke dprestigious schools. What sands out about that? They were not selected based on speciatlies, so business schools are lumped together with engineering institutions and liberal arts universities, something likely to scew results.

    The more prestigious institutions, from my experience, tend not to be less known for liberal arts. They are often known for their business or law schools, as those are the big money makers. Also, for non-political/history majors, the only coursework they are likely to take on civics is going to be the freshmen year intro classes, then they move on to their majors. That gives 3 years of lack of exposure to account for those discrepencaies between freshmen and seniors. These factors alone suggest to me the apparent limited nature of the survey makes its results questionable. Even so, I still can’t find the actual report anywhere so this may not be the case.

    [Ryan, it is not “my study”. It was done by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute and the University of Connecticut. If you had actually read it you would know that.

    To see the survey methods click here –

    – Chuck]

  9. Chuck,

    I read the articles posted and they conclude the importance of learning civics, which I stated in my post above. However, they make no point regarding teaching bias on any level. Also, the “Top Schools” didn’t score “Lowest”, they actualy scored Higher. The study ‘did’ show they LEARNED less throughout their years (since seniors tested worse), but this doesn’t mean they know less than other less prestigious colleges, they were just taught less over their school career. Your title implies they scored the worst overall, when they actually didn’t.

    Now before you believe I didn’t get your argument, I did. I agree with you it is terrible the most prestigious schools in the United States teach civics worse than the smaller schools. However, there is no strong evidence linking this from a “secular agenda”. Observational evidence is an interesting choice in backing up your argument. I have met many professors who have had stronger critical thinking skills than any other professor and taught me nothing about civics, does this not contradict your argment?

    For Example, your argument is:

    The most prestigious schools show the least amount of learning in civics, and I have observed many professors on campus teaching secular propaganda who are incapable of backing them up when critical thinking is applied. Therefore, the least amount of learning in civics is due to these non-critical thinking secular teachers attempting to push an agenda.

    Observed Critical Thinking By Teachers = Poor
    Observed Civics Teaching By Teachers = Poor
    Poor Critical Thinking By Teachers -> Less Learning in Civics

    However, this thesis is backed up by observational evidence. In other words, I have observed teachers who do the complete opposite and attempt to push no agenda and apply critical thinking wonderfully to their subject, but never teach me anything about civics.

    Observed Critical Thinking By Teachers = Good
    Observed Civics Teaching by Teachers = Poor
    Good Critical Thinking By Teachers -> Less Learning in Civics

    Therefore there is no correlation between good critical thinking and less learning in Civics. The two thesi stated above are logically valid and logically contradict eachother.

    If I had “empirical evidence” to portray a connection between critical thinking and learning in civics it would look like the following:

    *The following is a make believe study to portray a point*
    Harvard university recently did a study involving critical thinking and a students knowledge of civics. In it they found when students are taught by teachers with stronger critical thinking skills, they score 25% higher on civics exams.

    Scientific Result:
    Observed Critical Thinking By Teachers = Good
    Observed Civics Teaching by Teachers = Good

    Good Critical Thinking By Teachers -> Good Learning in Civics

    Do you see the difference here? This is “empirical evidence” portraying the point you made in your article. Observational evidence is all well and good, but it is not very credible and cannot create a strong thesis. We can all be very selective in what we observe. The only way to contradict this argument is to have another scientific study show the complete opposite. Which shouldn’t happen if the study was done correctly.

    I AGREE there is a very big problem regarding the teaching of civics at the university level. I just don’t think you portray the evidence to strongly link the blame to ‘secular-left’ teachers who are incapable of ‘critically thinking’. I do not doubt there are teachers attempting to undermine our constitution, in fact, I have been witness to them. However, I do not believe they are directly to blame for lower test scores. After all Chuck, I would have scored a 50% on that very same test (I looked at the questions and was shocked at how many I didn’t know). Does this make me a product of teachers with poor critical thinking skills and secular-propagandist agendas? Your thesis states it does.

  10. Ryan said

    Where is the bloody test or survey results? I found lots of articles but no link to the actual results of the survey nor listings of the test itself. Might have overlooked it, but a direct link pointer would be helpful.

    [Ryan I wrote this piece to squeeze into the print version of The Vision, just grab one of the direct quotes I listed and pop it in the Google search bar and walla…. – Chuck]

  11. John M. Novak said

  12. Craig: You claim that you “do not doubt there are teachers attempting to undermine our constitution, in fact, [you] have been witness to them.” Undermine in what way? Undermine its legitimacy? Advocate the overthrow of the government?

    Please be specific. Broad generalizations such as that are mere cant. If you can’t back up your statements with concrete evidence, don’t make them. I know you’re capable – please exercise that capability.

  13. RYan Hill said

    Two bullets from the study findings.

    # Schools where students took more courses in American history, political science, and economics outperformed those schools where fewer courses were completed.

    -As I mentioned earlier, I have deep suspicions that it was an invalid study due to looking at schools of varying focus. A business school will not have large amounts of American History courses.

    # Civic learning is significantly greater at schools that require students to take courses in American history, political science, and economics. Student knowledge in these key areas improves significantly at colleges that still value excellent teaching in the classroom.

    -As I’ve already said. So sorry Chuck, the study gives reasons why studetns score lower on civics, and none of it is poor critical thinking skills among the faculty. You may wish to get your own checked though. I think your agenda is once again getting in the way.


    You are operating on a false assumption that the classics, and civics, through most of our history were not a part of every student’s general education curriculum.

    Is it asking too much to ask a business school to keep up with a 1954 8th grader in its general education curriculum?

    Almost all schools and universities used to give a very well rounded civics and philosophy liberal arts education as a part of the general education curriculum no matter what their major, now they don’t. For example I know very few professors from today who could pass this 8th Grade Civics Exam from 1954. –

    Most any student at Hillsdale College would pass the ISI exam with flying colors and so would almost any professor and college student from 1958. – Chuck]

  14. Craig Chamberlin said


    One of my previous instructors stated the constitution was not specific enough, and needs rewritten or “updated” to compensate for new discoveries. However, the constitution was written vague for a reason, it was meant to be interpreted. Specifically, this professor believed ‘speech’ needed defined. Specifying what “speech” is would not stand the test of time as the current constitution does. After all, with the advancement of technologies such as the internet, there can be no accounting for the changes in forms of speech.

    Fundamentally, the word ‘speech’ implies the same thing over many forms of communication. It was meant to be interpreted, not specific.

    For a hypothetical, if they had wrote:

    “Congress shall make no law abridging signs, conversations, or of newspapers and newsletters;”

    It wouldn’t have lasted very long would it have?

    He’s not allowed to send e-mails about the president! Censor him! According to the constitution he is only free to speak using public signs, conversations, newspapers or newsletters. Any other form of speech is prohibited.

    So then we’d have to change the constitution again to compensate for the lack of saying “e-mails”.

    Interpretation is necessary for a document to stand the test of time.

    Undermining – To weaken by wearing away a base or foundation.

    Suggesting vagueness makes the document flawed weakens the philosophical basis by which it was written, therefore undermining it.

    The Philosophical Basis = Necessity of Vagueness in the document.

    Sorry it took me so long, I’ve been busy…

  15. Ryan said

    Sorry craig, but the current reasoning that money is speech si an example where definition is needed. I’ve never understood how corporations are allowed to bribe candidates, but its a crime for anyone else to do so.

  16. Craig Chamberlin said


    I’m a little lost in your point. Do you mean the corruption of buying out politicians? If this is the case, then the problem isn’t in the “detail” of the document, rather in the corruption existing in politics. Increasing the detail of the document will in no way stop corruption, only way to do so is through accountability. This is the responsibility of the people.

    While adjusting the document may appear to be a logical conclusion, there are easier ways to get around laws layed out in detail than vague laws. All it will take is a marginal shift from what is directly specified in this newly “revised” constitution to give individuals a pass.

    If people want to manipulate the laws, they are going to, no matter how detailed you attempt to make them. Those who are manipulating are supposed to be held accountable by us.

    If the people believe “speech” is being interpreted inaccurately, we are supposed to stand up and point out the corruption – therefore shifting the interpretation. It is “the living constitution” because it allows mistakes in interpretation to be made so we can learn from them.

    It is arrogant to believe we can make a detailed constitution that would last a long time because it relies on our ability to predict the future and all forms of speech to come.

    The second we lose faith in our legal system’s ability to properly interpret the laws for the good of the country, and attempt to fix the problem by not addressing the corruption, but changing the documents by which our country is founded, I will live in great fear for our future.

  17. Craig:

    That’s an exceptionally bad example, as “conversation” can be interpreted in a number of ways, just as you maintain “speech” must be. Furthermore, without specifying whether this was simply an off-the-cuff remark by this professor or part of a prepared presentation, you still aren’t being clear enough. The professor apparently believed that he or she was suggesting improvements; attacking someone for “attempting to undermine the Constitution” when they suggest that the Constitution is not perfect is hardly conducive to an honest exchange of ideas.

    I believe that the Constitution does require some changes, and ought to be “updated,” to borrow your phrase. Obviously, the framers thought it might require alteration, also, as they provided a process whereby it could be amended. To date, excluding the Bill of Rights, this has happened no less than 17 times. Shocking, isn’t it, to believe that the Constitution might require such radical alteration?

    Shocking, isn’t it, to consider that, in spite of the fact that the Declaration of Independence specifically said that “all men are created equal,” and the Fifth Amendment states that “No person shall…be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law,” that we had to pass the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to expressly guarantee these rights to a population which had heretofore been deprived of their freedom, and that even then, they were not granted their rights until nearly 100 years after those amendments were ratified, and in many cases are still not granted those rights?

    Furthermore, as a socialist, I believe that the abolition of private property will better serve the common good than allowing it; the Constitution, however, enshrines private property. While we’re on that subject, were you aware that the men who wrote that held others in bondage and subjected them to the self-same tyranny and oppression–nay, greater tyranny and oppression–which they maintained was being imposed on them by the English Crown?

    In short, the Constitution was a compromise with a monstrous evil, and continues to be one. It is a fundamentally flawed document which has never lived up to the promises it makes. Maybe we’re not so radical as you might think in suggesting that if it’s broke, it ought to be fixed. But, of course, the mere suggestion that the Constitution, like the Bible, could be flawed sends waves of revulsion through you and yours.

    By the way, your background in economic, political, legal, and social history is very poor. The laws have never been “properly interpret[ed] for the good of the country.” The corruption has always been endemic and systemic. When a small portion of the population gets a disproportionate share of the common wealth (commonwealth, eh?), you have a problem. The Constitution was set up to enshrine rich white male privelege, and continues to do so to this day. The only reason anyone else has a say is because they paid for it in blood. I suggest to you that it might be time to throw the baby out with the bathwater, since the child has long since drowned.

  18. Craig Chamberlin said


    Thank you for re-iterating the uselessness of attempting to make the constitution more specific. As you said, the word ‘conversation’ could be interpreted in many different ways – so what good is it creating a more specific document when it comes to defining ‘speech’. It is merely a futile attempt to create ‘the perfect document’ and in the process creating a scape-goat for everything not listed within it specifically.

    I’m sorry you have a problem with the definition of the word undermining. Maybe I should show it again.

    Undermining – To weaken by wearing away a base or foundation.

    I didn’t create the word or the definition. The fact remains, when someone suggests one of the fundamental aspects of the constitution is tragically flawed to a class full of students, whether the professor knows it it or not, they are undermining it. Now, I’m not saying individuals like this should be ‘censored’ or their ideas shouldn’t be ‘discussed’, but by the very definition of undermining, it is what they are doing.

    Also, since you believe it is pertinent, the “discussion” compromised of just the teacher talking went on in class for about 20 to 30 minutes.

    Secondly, you believe social injustice is due to flaws in the document. This is where you and I fundamentally disagree. While I believe the flaw comes in societies interpretations, you believe the document (not the people interpreting it) should be able to create a fair society. In other words, you put your faith in the document itself and not in people. Tell me how it isn’t arrogant to believe man can create such a document.

    If such a document existed, it appears it could only exist in a dictatorship. This document with perfectly defined laws would need enforced without any question of interpretation. Not exactly a society I would want to live in.

    Thirdly, you seem incapable of separating social issues from legal issues. While cleverly pointing out how ‘monsterous’ the founding fathers of the constitution were – you discredit yourself by showing how the ‘monsterous’ document they created lead to the end of slavery because people began to to change their ‘interpretation’ of it. Society was able to learn from its mistakes and the document was designed so this could be possible.

    External social and cultural pressures such as slavery could not have been stopped with a piece of paper. It required people to LEARN slavery was wrong. Do you honestly believe a better document would have instantly made early Americans say “Oh, I guess we were wrong about slavery, lets set them all free.” If you believe this I’m afraid you may know very little about human nature.

    Fourthly, thank you for the personal attacks, it shows true character and respect for what I believe. As you said, maybe it “is hardly conductive to an honest exchange of ideas.”

    You stated, “But, of course, the mere suggestion that the Constitution, like the Bible, could be flawed sends waves of revulsion through you and yours.”

    … Beautifully Fabricated…

    Of course amendments to the constution will be necessary. New knowledge will sometimes be applied to the constitution. However, if you look at the amendments, they can be surprisingly vague… imagine that.

    Given our staunch differences, I hardly believe you and I are going to agree on many issues. This doesn’t mean I do not respect your argument or what you believe.

  19. Craig:

    You still labor under a few misconceptions. I blame myself for not expressing more clearly just how you were misunderstanding. The sense of “undermine” which you use is inappropriate, as “wearing away” the “base or foundation” of the Constitution would be more along the lines of attacking the society that created it. A more appropriate definition to use in the context of the Constitution would be “to injure or destroy by insidious activity or imperceptible stages, sometimes tending toward a sudden dramatic effect,” or “to attack by indirect, secret, or underhand means; attempt to subvert by stealth.” That’s what you really mean when you say that someone’s trying to “undermine the Constitution.” What you suggest is that someone is attempting to weaken the Constitution itself, and thereby perhaps undermine the United States goverment (although I still maintain that you use that definition inappropriately). The “attack” was on the Constitution, not its “base or foundation.”

    I never said that social injustice was “due to flaws in the document.” That you interpreted my comments that way says quite a bit about where you think social injustice must come from. The document didn’t create these injustices, it enshrined them. The document could not, therefore, create any sort of society, nor could any other document. Society is what happens when you have Humans. The Constitution was a reflection of the society that created it. Does that mean it was somehow excusable for it to have done what it did? No – it points to a deeper failing.

    Social issues are legal issues are political issues are economic issues are psychological issues are…. It’s all entangled. Further, I did not say that the “founding fathers” (I said framers) were “monsterous [sic],” nor did I say that the Constitution was “monsterous [sic].” I said that the Constitution embodied a monstrous compromise, in that it enshrined the evil of slavery, and that it enshrined priveleged groups. It made it possible for these groups to hold onto their privelege after the previous legal basis for it had been destroyed by their secession from England.

    With regards to slavery, you appear to labor under further misconceptions, in that you claim that people didn’t know slavery was wrong. They did. They simply chose to ignore that fact and preferred to justify it by claiming that Blacks were subhuman, etc. Washington and Jefferson both recognized the hypocrisy of their situation, but they were too accustomed to being wealthy planters to be willing to give it up in their lifetimes.

    Society has, indeed, “learned from its mistakes,” as you suggest, but I submit to you that the conception that most people have of what those mistakes were differs very widely from that which many minorities hold. Furthermore, to suggest that slavery was a “mistake” is plainly wrong. Slavery was a deliberate act, involving the destruction of indigenous cultures and the brutalization of other human beings. Slavery was not a mistake, it was evil. We have rid ourselves of slavery, but we have yet to rid ourselves of racism, largely because people don’t want to admit that they’re racist.

    With respect to the prof: they’re simply misguided, not trying to undermine the Constitution. You should recognize the intentionality inherently implied by “undermine,” and seek to adjust your langauge, I MNSHO. You use it like a buzzword, and I hate buzzwords.

  20. Craig Chamberlin said


    It is interesting to see where your argument is going. Let me make sure I have it right.

    You claim I used the word ‘undermine’ out of context because the professor addressed what they believed was a fundamental flaw in the document, but didn’t voluntarily do it to intentionally wear away the basis by which it was formed.

    However, if their intents were indeed not to subvert, then shouldn’t their 25 minute lecture include the ability to argue with them or share the opposing viewpoint by those who believe vagueness is necessary? Also, you fail to accept that vagueness is one of the fundament philosophical bases by which the document was formed. Teaching a group full of students this basis is tragically flawed and offering no alternative arguments or open discussion about it is undermining. If you do not agree, then we simply disagree on the definition of the word ‘undermining’, and there is no use for further discussion on the issue.

    I can not help but think you are attempting to find a way to argue with me. Now you claim the constitution enshrined slavery. This makes no sense when the constitution basically directly contradicts slavery. Furthermore, your believing the enshrining of slavery by the constitution continued slavery contradicts your stating you do not believe the document creates societal inequality. We have ourselves a paradox.

    Your logic:
    A) The constitution doesn’t create social inequality.
    B) The enshrinement of slavery in the constitution is what instigated the continuation of slavery.

    Therefore, you blame social inequality on the constitution even though you believe the constitution does not create social inequality.

    Secondly, you believe I had misconceptions about slavery. You state that people indeed ‘did’ know slavery was wrong. Not only do you have no basis by which to justify this argument, it logically makes no sense. If ‘all’ people knew slavery was wrong, then why would it have existed to begin with? If you believe it is human nature, then how do you break people from owning slaves? Oh, thats right, you create a document that states “all men are created equal” and this will put pressure on society to take a long hard look at itself. Don’t believe me? This is exactly what happened.

    All these implications that the constitution enshrined inherently evil things is interesting to read. After all, you are basically implying that the founding fathers could have somehow stopped slavery and made individuals “truely equal” by having a better document. This is a strong misconception. You cannot force society to do ‘anything’ without society being forced to face the reality of its own failures. Society as a whole needed to accept they had done wrong before all men could truely have been equal.

    Thanks for your posts.

  21. I’ll address your points in order:

    1. I didn’t claim that you used it “out of context” at all. I said that I failed to find your claim that the professor was attempting to undermine the constitution credible. I suggested that your argument lacked credibility on two points: the professor was neither attempting to “weaken the Constitution’s base” (which I understand not as some principle of vagueness, but some actual structure or institution upon which the Constitution stands), nor did I find the other definitions useful in understanding the professor’s lecture. FWIW, I used and the Oxford English Dictionary (available online via the IUSB library).

    Without knowing the whole history of the professor’s career and academic studies, I can only suggest that this does not speak well of his or her ability to express him- or herself. Unfortunately, great intellects are few and far between, and you’re bound to run into the occasional person who comes up with some really boneheaded ideas (even I’m not perfect).

    2. You asked “if their intents [sic] were indeed not to subvert, then shouldn’t their 25 minute lecture include the ability to argue with them or share the opposing viewpoint by those who believe vagueness is necessary?” By all means! I would never maintain otherwise. I’ve argued with professors on many points before. I’m not always right, but occasionally I do make a good point.

    3. I’m not “now claiming that the constitution enshrined slavery;” I maintained that from the very start. However, you misunderstood me, because I apparently did not express myself clearly enough to allow you to do so. The Constitution does not “basically contradict slavery.” That you claim this is of serious concern to me, Craig; are you serious about this? If so, your civics education is alarmingly deficient.

    4. I don’t see the contradiction. Slavery existed prior to the signing of the Constitution. The framers made no serious effort to get rid of it. The Constitution allowed people to continue owning slaves. Therefore, the Constitution enshrined slavery and allowed its perpetuation. QED.

    5. I don’t “blame social inequality on the Constitution,” I blame it on the people who wrote the Constitution and continue to allow it to be in force, and who continue to uphold its merits as a legal document.

    6. I don’t have the time to properly educate you on the history of slavery and anti-slavery movements, but I did point out the (very non-controversial) fact that Jefferson and Washington recognized that slavery was wrong, but declined to free their slaves except on their respective deathbeds. Additionally, Paul III issued his encyclical of 1537, entitled Sublimus Dei, which said that

    We define and declare by these Our letters…the said Indians and all other people who may later be discovered by Christians, are by no means to be deprived of their liberty or the possession of their property, even though they be outside the faith of Jesus Christ; and that they may and should, freely and legitimately, enjoy their liberty and the possession of their property; nor should they be in any way enslaved; should the contrary happen, it shall be null and have no effect.

    That’s the best I can do for right now, but I’d say the inherent evil of slavery was fairly well recognized even by the sixteenth century.

    7. I never said any such thing about the framers. They could have set the example and freed their own slaves, among many other things, but they quite clearly did not, feeling no need or moral obligation to do so. You are quite correct that society must be forced to face the reality of its own failures; however, as Frantz Fanon observed, it appears that humans are unable to condemn themselves. Humans are unfortunately very loath to admit that they were wrong, especially in large groups.

    Ultimately, though, it doesn’t matter what could have been done; what matters is what was done. History has had a great number of possible turning-points, moments in which a decision or the placement of a small object has immense consequences. If it is at all possible to understand how things might have been under different circumstances, we haven’t figured out how to do it yet.

  22. A minor clarification to my last post: I meant “extol” instead of “uphold.”

  23. Craig Chamberlin said


    1. We simply both have different interpretations of undermining and what qualifies as undermining.

    3. The Founders believed the Declaration of Independance was the foundational document in our Constitutional form of government. This is, quite obviously, a contradiction within the document when it suggests african american men are less than men. You believe these were placed within the document to keep slavery enforced, while I believe it comes down to society at the time. If you want to see an in depth look at Jefferson’s viewpoint so you can see a more informed perspective of societies outlook on african americans, view the site below:

    It was inevitable that society (at the time) needed to understand african americans could be equal. What appears as common sense to us now, was mere ignorance at the time. Therefore the document offered the opportunity for this conclusion to be drawn, by its nature, it was designed to be amended when society accepted its failures, and still is to this day.

    You claim corruption, I claim ignorance.

    5. Suggesting the Founding Fathers could have, if they wanted to, stopped slavery on their own.

    7. Alas, society never awakens from it’s failures until they become ridiculously obvious. This is the weakness of human nature. However, this cannot be blamed on the document, rather it can only be blamed on ourselves.

    Thanks for your post.

  24. Craig:

    1. Clearly. I’ll stick to my belief that you’re crying alarm because you simply didn’t like the fact that the professor had the audacity to suggest that the Constitution was imperfect.

    2. Cite, please? I’ve always been under the impression that it was, in fact, the Constitution which was “the foundational document in our Constitutional form of government.” (I just googled “foundational document”+constitutional form of government” and only got right-wing websites. Nothing scholarly.)

    You may interpret it however you wish. Nevertheless, the framers, in order to get the Constitution ratified, had to include very specific protections for slavery. This is not controversial. Let me repeat that, more strongly this time: This is not controversial. This is a matter of established historical fact, to which The Federalist Papers will readily attest. Your lack of civics education is simply shocking, Craig. Chuck, where’s your complaint about lack of civics education now?

    Once again, your claim of ignorance is unsupported by the evidence. Jefferson knew it was wrong. He decided not to free his slaves until he died. Ditto Washington. Paul III knew it was wrong. Franklin knew it was wrong. I could cite numerous other examples. People didn’t did want to know it was wrong, because it was far too profitable.

    3. You are beginning to anger me with your continued willful misinterpretation of my arguments. I have never suggested that the Framers could have ended slavery by themselves; in fact, I have repeatedly maintained just the opposite. This is an artifact of your own desire to find something in my argument which you can refute. Let me repeat myself one more time, just so we’re clear: The Framers could not have ended slavery by themselves. What they could have done is set the example and urged others to free their slaves, for example by organizing an anti-slavery society. They did none of these. They clearly decided that slavery may be wrong, but it wasn’t wrong enough that it required them to work for its abolition.

    4. The document can be held up as an example of the hypocrisy of its authors, which I have done.

  25. Craig Chamberlin said

    1. Feel free to cry alarm. However, if you do not believe a professor deliberately teaching their students one of the constitution’s foundations is fundamentally flawed is undermining – then I have a right to disagree with you. This is a matter of opinion. I believe it is a teachers responsibility to educate about the constitution properly, not attack its foundations. Through attacking the foundation in front of students they are supposed to teach, they are weakening its base and attributing no proper form of education in the process. The constitution works because individuals believe it works, if a professor is attempting to remove students beliefs in it by improperly educating, then they are undermining. It is one thing to say the constitution is not perfect (if this is what they had said I wouldn’t have cared), it is quite another to deliberately manipulate an educational process to portray it as fundamentally flawed and in need of restructuring.

    2. Citing:
    Gulf, C. & S. F. R. CO. v. Ellis, 165 U.S. 150 (1897)
    But arbitrary selection can never be justified by calling it classification. The equal protection demanded by the fourteenth amendment forbids this. No language is more worthy of frequent and thoughtful consideration than these words of Mr. Justice Matthews, speaking for this court, in Yick Wo v. Hopkins, 118 U.S. 356, 369 , 6 S. Sup. Ct. 1064, 1071: “When we consider the nature and the theory of our institutions of government, the principles upon which they are supposed to rest, and review the history of their development, we are constrained to conclude that they do not mean to leave room for the play and action of purely personal and arbitrary power.” The first official action of this nation declared the foundation of government in these words:

    “We hold these truths to be self-evident, [165 U.S. 150, 160] that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” While such declaration of principles may not have the force of organic law, or be made the basis of judicial decision as to the limits of right and duty, and while in all cases reference must be had to the organic law of the nation for such limits, yet the latter is but the body and the letter of which the former is the thought and the spirit, and it is always safe to read the letter of the constitution in the spirit of the Declaration of Independence. No duty rests more imperatively upon the courts than the enforcement of those constitutional provisions intended to secure that equality of rights which is the foundation of free government.

    The spirit of the declaration was built into the constitution. You stated they needed to build slavery into the constitution in order to get the constitution ratified. Tell me how this doesn’t back my claim of slavery being such a powerful social issue at the time there was no way it could have held as the document it was without the implementation of african americans as subhumans at the time of its creation. Secondly, don’t you find it convenient that the concept of slavery was contradicted within the declaration? Could it be they knew slavery was wrong, and the only way to create a document at the time that would end it eventually is to contradict it? If they were truely attempting to empower and retain slavery, don’t you think they would not have created the declaration of independance with ‘all men are created equal’ to begin with? Or even acknowledged the declaration within the constitution?

    3. History is history. The declaration and the constitution played a large role in the end of slavery. Thus showing the document wasn’t found on as ‘monsterous’ of a base as you state it was. Sure our founding fathers made mistakes, and I could go on all day stating the great things they did, and you could go on all day stating the mistakes they did. What good will this do us? Should we try to discredit those before us who did great and horrible things? Have we not done great and horrible things ourselves? We are guilty of the same, and for one to claim they are not is mere arrogance.

    The constitution isn’t perfect, but it has done it’s job very well. Now as people, we don’t do the best job at interpreting it. However, the document needs to be interpreted because we are learning as people.

    4. You are right, the founding fathers could have set the example by freeing their own slaves. Such is the problem with analyzing history. I can tell you hundreds of things we should have done. There is no point, because these things were done. It is important to look backward to learn from our mistakes, but useless to look backward and make accusations of intent. If you can convince me the constitution is failing us now, I might take your stance on its ‘monsterous compromise’ from the beginning more seriously.

    5. Do you find it impossible that they knew of their own failures as human beings and built into the document the very thing that would make them appear as hypocrites? Doesn’t it seem like they created the document with the intent for the good of all men even though they didn’t even follow the document properly in their personal lives? Is it possible for me to help someone stop smoking if I smoke? Or help someone start exercising if I don’t exercise? Sometimes we know what we ought to do and fail to do it. Such is the battle of human nature.

    Thanks again for your posts.

  26. 1. Craig, to be quite honest, I tire of this example of this professor. I don’t even know that the professor said any such thing. For all I know, you could have misinterpreted his comments. People do that quite often – I’m guilty of it myself.

    2. This demonstrates that the Declaration of Independence was a significant influence on the Constitution. This is a question of interpretation, which we’ll never agree on.

    3. They also played a significant role in the perservation and promulgation of slavery, Craig. The documents were used by both sides. I would say that the Southern planter class in the antebellum period was closer to the mindset of Washington and Jefferson than the Northern industrialist class was, although we could argue this one, too. The documents gave credence to slavery, and allowing this to be done was necessary for their ratification.

    Were you aware, for example, that an early draft of the Declaration of Independence contained references to slavery, that were removed because they would offend too many of the right people?

    4. No, it’s not “what should they have done?” You’re asking the wrong question, Craig. It’s “what would they have done if they had been as committed to these principles they espoused as we believe they were?” You cannot argue that there are a certain set of timeless principles which we must know and to which we must adhere, while simultaneously saying that our understanding of those principles was underdeveloped.

    If you want to get into questions of interpretation and understanding, let me be clear: by our standards, these men were elitists, racists, warmongers, genocidal monsters. Men such as this are still in charge. The Constitution will do whatever those with power want it to do. It says whatever they want it to say.

    The reality is that, in our society, there is an elite agenda which dominates the media, schools, government of all levels, and therefore gets easily transmitted and taught to people. Their control is imperfect for innumerable reasons, not least of which is the fact that Humans are notoriously difficult animals to control. Psychology is not an exact science.

    In many respects, this was even more the case in the eighteenth century than it is now. The elite agendas were more plentiful and often more progressive (relative to the standards of the time) then than they are now, but rarely did you see anyone seriously advocating participatory democracy (they called that “mob rule” and made sure it didn’t happen). But certain voices were still silenced.

    Still failing us? The Constitution has never not failed us. A more noteworthy question would be when has the Constitution worked for us? The Constitution is interpreted in a manner that suits those with a hold on the levers of power; even where the interpretation appears to be to their detriment, in the overall scope of things, they’re almost never significantly damaged.

    5. (1) On the contrary, I’m well aware that they pained greatly over the compromise they had to make. (2) No, it doesn’t; that’s the point I’ve been making. No matter how you slice it, the document wasn’t meant to apply to some people on a systematic basis. The document was created with the intent for the good of certain people, and incidentally extended benefits to others after it was forced to – always the result of struggle on the part of those to whom it was not meant to apply (and still isn’t).

    The problem with your last two questions is that you assume that they actually meant to help other people. In reality, their efforts were an attempt to make the problem go away, rather than address the fact that they’d been systematically working them to death for several hundred years. I should also note that the slave trade was still active at this point, which meant that they were still subsidizing the kidnapping, murder, maiming, and war on Africans that it entailed, along with all the horrors of the middle passage, and the breakup of families on the auction block.

    I’m emphasizing the horrors of slavery for a reason. You don’t seem to grasp that the monstrosity of this institution corrupted everyone it touched. I begin to see where this idea of original sin came from and why certain influential trends of Western Christianity began to emphasize it so strongly. They were conscious of their guilt. But they couldn’t admit it, so they had to blame it on someone else. Who better than the very people they were oppressing (take your pick, there were a lot), whose power to resist had already been shown to be deficient? It’s not as if they were in a position to defend themselves, after all…

  27. Craig Chamberlin said


    1. I agree, we could go in circles for months about this. : )

    2. Fair enough.

    3. Yes, but the declaration and the constitution did empower the people to stand up against social and governmental injustice. The document allowed for the checks and balances of the government.

    4. Yes, “What would they have done” can be argued. However, you stated:
    “You cannot argue that there are a certain set of timeless principles which we must know and to which we must adhere, while simultaneously saying that our understanding of those principles was underdeveloped”
    In an everchanging world we will always find our understanding of social and governmental issues underdeveloped. New forms of oppression and injustice are created on a daily basis. There is a significant difference between few individuals recogonizing injustices and the majority of people recognizing injustices. A few people who recognize injustice cannot adequately restrict the majority from doing said injustice without properly educating and allowing them to understand it. Society needs to recognize the injustice before the injustice can be properly dealt with. This is the fundamental flaw of human nature and law. Societies fear change and will not change until someone has convinced them otherwise. Sadly, often times this results in years of oppression and pain before society accepts the change. Even afterwards, some refuse to change.

    Should we do it some other way? The only way we could do it is give the power of law to certain elite individuals who believe they know what is best for society to change the laws as social injustices are discovered. The problem with this setup is it requires a semi-dictatorhip.

    Our system, in essence, does a combination of the two. We vote for those who we believe will stand up for what we consider to be social and governmental injustices. Sadly, this grants the power to that particular individual and they are not properly held accountable for following through with their promises anymore.

    So who’s fault is it? Unfortunately it is going to come back to ourselves. The declaration and the constitution gave us the power to hold the government accountable and we have failed to do so adequately. Therefore, political corruption (those in power with the lever) have been allowed free reign on their questionable activities while hiding behind their propagandic claims of a better society. Granted, not all politicians are this way. The media will portray who it wants in office in a good light, all media is skewed to a point. It is near impossible to separate politics from a belief system (as I had stated from my other posts). This isn’t a bad thing until people accept other individual’s opinions as facts. In our media driven world, this is happening all too often.

    5. It’s important for me to clarify a certain point. You had said the document incidentally granted rights to those who were being oppressed. This is not the case, the document was designed to empower the people to address flaws in it’s interpretation and therefore, amend it. As a result, it is not by incident that this document was amended, rather, it was built into the document itself.

    Even if your claim of it originally designed to empower certain people is true. Checks and balances by the people were also built into it. Philosophically, they built into the document the empowering of the people to contradict whatever they originally entered into it. This shows their lack of faith in their ability to create the perfect document from the beginning. This is important when considering their motives.

    6. Original sin spans all the way back to Gensis and The Garden of Eden. It is unfortunately true that many of us live in guilt of the decisions we are making, but never adequately address them. Also, sometimes we take that guilt out on those around us (as you had stated above). It is my belief that Christ emphasises the importance of avoiding sin at all costs because he knew what the result would be:
    “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. [44] Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. [45] The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:43-49)
    I wish I could say the oppression has completely stopped and there is no corruption in politics. However, it would be foolish to say such a thing. As human beings, we haven’t made much progress over the past few hundred (few thousand?) years have we?
    Anyways, I fear the reprecussions of posting Christian scripture on this weblog, I hope no one takes offense. These are merely observations I have made and I think they are relevant to what you were saying in your post. I respect your stance on these issues, and you pointed out many perspectives regarding the constitution I have not seen, I thank you for that.

  28. 3. It didn’t empower a lot of people, and was interpreted in a way that disempowered many. I’m by no means arguing that the Constitution did not create an effective system of government; clearly, it did that. My point is that the government it set up is one wherein elite interests are represented by default and the majority has to force its benefits to extend to them. I’ll have to do some reading on the Whiskey Rebellion – remember “no taxation without representation?” – as I suspect that this is a prime example of what I’m talking about, but I have no firm evidence right at the moment. I’ll get back to you on this one at some point.

    4. I never said it couldn’t be argued, I’m just saying that I think it’s a fruitless question to ask simply, “what should they have done?” What, indeed? To accomplish what ends?

    You claim that “A few people who recognize injustice cannot adequately restrict the majority from doing said injustice without properly educating and allowing them to understand it.” Precisely. And at no point was this task ever accomplished – why? Because it was not in their interest. Voices calling for the abolition of slavery were marginalized, looked at askance, because they threatened to economic base from which these elites derived their power. Slavery built America.

    Furthermore, societies do not “fear change” as you suggest; they welcome those changes which appear to them to be of benefit and reject those for which they perceive no need or understand to be harmful. In fact, Humans are very attracted to change, where they believe that change to be beneficial. My analysis, however, links the development of capitalism with the ongoing use of slave labor. Racism in its modern form is the result of people attempting to justify their enslavement of other human beings, and did not become a significant force until slavery became expressly identified with a certain population (i.e., Black Africans, or later what we would term African Americans). The decision to transition to a labor force composed purely of Blacks had many causes, but none of these was based on an assumption that they were inferior. Indeed, it was precisely the recognition that these slaves were quite resourceful and prepared to seek their freedom that led to some of the brutal conditions we witness under slavery.

    I must also disagree with your assertion that “the only way we could do it [change society] is give the power of law to certain elite individuals who believe they know what is best for society to change the laws as social injustices are discovered.” I think it’s very unfortunate that you have such a low opinion of yourself and of others, Craig. I believe just the opposite: that by empowering people to change, they will do so. I also believe that most injustices can be avoided if people are placed on an equal footing. This has its own problems, of course – it’s by no means a simple task, when our culture has developed from a long line of cultures that gave their seal of approval to various ills. But nevertheless, I remain committed to my belief that by empowering people and educating them as to where the real source of their oppression lies, they will naturally begin to shed their prejudices.

    I think questions of “fault” are often difficult to adjudicate, and honestly, it takes two to tango. You’re true that to some degree, we bear responsibility for our own failures. But at the same time, if we failed because we did our best, but our best wasn’t good enough, are we at “fault?” This can be read to work against me, so let me clarify a bit: I don’t think the Framers “did their best” to ensure that their promise extended to everyone – I think they did their best to ensure that it did not. In that, they were amazingly successful.

    You make an interesting observation with regards to the media, as well. “The media will portray who it wants in office in a good light,” you say – an interesting observation. I challenge you to apply this to an actual race and see who the media favors. I can tell that they’re almost guaranteed to have a D or an R after their names. Most of them do, in fact, “hide behind their propagandistic claims of a better society,” to paraphrase you a bit.

    Media bias is well-established, and contrary to Chuck’s constant trumpeting, is rarely “liberal” (in any meaningful sense of that word). The Register is a British IT news outlet; they claim to be “biting the hand that feeds IT.” I find this very ironic, because it inadvertantly exposes a practice that most other media outlets rarely engage in; namely, biting the hands that feed them. Most of the scholarship which I’ve encountered suggests that the media has a pro-institutional bias; pro-America, pro-corporate capital, pro-government. Often, some of these institutions slip up and do things that merit criticism, but that criticism is directed at them from the standpoint that such criticism is rarely genuinely warranted, that they are isolated incidents and not systematic abuses, and that, in general, they have everyone’s best interests in mind. This is our media-driven world.

    5. I’m aware that the document has a certain amount of built-in flexibility. I’ve pointed this out myself, in fact. This is still incidental to their wishes, however, as they never thought women or Blacks were capable of meaningful self-determination. You may argue that they were willing to allow future generations to re-interpret what it meant, and I agree, but they would not have wanted those future generations to re-interpret it in the way it has been interpreted, in my opinion. The fact of amending is not what’s incidental; the amendments that were passed are what’s incidental.

    The framers recognized a clear need for the government to be flexible, it’s true, and declined to set ironclad limitations on what the government could and could not do (even the Bill of Rights is not ironclad). However, granting the government the freedom to carry out its mission entails a certain degree of flexibility. The process that they set up did allow for change. But, again, the actual change that occurred was incidental and would likely not have met with their approval. Particularly granting Blacks equality with Whites, and citizenship.

    6. Why should there be repercussions? You quote scripture, I often quote Marx. Christ had some good things to say. And this is, after all, the Vision’s weblog and therefore in some sense yours. I also expected you to trot out scripture at some point; it would not have been in character for your camp if you didn’t. I respect people more if they have the courage of their convictions than if they don’t. Doesn’t mean I particularly like them, but I have to give them at least the respect that a worthy opponent deserves.

    Original Sin is one of those peculiarly Christian ideas. Even the other so-called “Abrahamic religions,” (i.e. Judaism and Islam) don’t recognize it. The sense in which we (and you, in particular) use it is also unique to Western Christianity. It appears to stem from Augustine. Given the state of society in the 4th century, and Augustine’s own conduct, I can’t say I’m surprised.

  29. Chuck Norton said

    This thread has been most entertaining, I point out that I noticed that some profs from some big schools dont seem as sharp as from some of the smaller ones (with a few noted exceptions), so I happen to run across this study….. I write a lil blurb about it and people freak.

    Of course everything in the world is attacked, I am the devil, I see that Christians are the devil… etc etc…. but of course the main argument still stands: many universities, including the so called biggest and brightest (and insanely expensive), who are charged with giving students a well rounded college education, have failed miserably when it comes to civics and, judging by the quality of many of the arguments presented here, my observations on critical thinking are even more valid than I feared.

    Of course, having a full understanding of the will to be contrarian by the hyper-partisans, I might just write an article soon on something totally obvious, you know, like the sky is blue or something, just so I can watch the hyper partisans tell me how blue is the wrong word to describe it.

  30. Chuck Norton said

    I see the old Founders must be evil cause of slavery cliche has been brought up again… ok , you guys want something controversial… I am about to give you one….

    The 3/5ths compromise was one of the first and largest nails in the coffin of slavery, it was yet another step to bring the institution of slavery to an end….. not to preserve it.

    I will let the hyper partisans freak out on this statement for a while…. and return to see just how civicly educated/ignorant some turn out to be.

    Oh by the way Craig, in reading your summary of my argument, you have totally mischaracterized it… I mean really, even though everyone I have talked to in the halls understood my argument right off the bat, you dont get it, so track me down so I can fill you in.

    You wrote –
    Observed Critical Thinking By Teachers = Poor
    Observed Civics Teaching By Teachers = Poor
    Poor Critical Thinking By Teachers -> Less Learning in Civics

    If this is how you see my argument, than you have missed it big time. You are ignoring the correlation those who combine those poor critical thinking skills with hyper ideology and the result is just the kind of professor I am talking about.

    The kind of professor I am talking about (I will pick extreme cases for the example) is the kind that teach the class that 9/11 was a vast Jewish conspiracy, that the victims on 9/11 were lil Eichmans who essentially deserved it for daring to be capitalist, or that Bush, the stupidest president in history, engineered 9/11 so brilliantly that almost everyone bought it…….

    ……. these are exactly the type of professors who do not, and will not teach civics properly. They think that America was a mistake, that the Founders were bad, that capitalism and all the freedom with responsibility stuff stinks; hence the joining of hyper ideologues combined with poor critical thinking skills. Is that the kind of professor who can really teach why the ideals and philosophy of John Locke helped to make America the most powerful nation on Earth?…. of course not, because your typical hyper-partisan, poor critical thinking prof who thinks that America is a big mistake and has 3 pictures of Karl Marx on their wall, is going to hate Locke…. so how can that prof give teaching Lock a fair shake?

    The Bush lied people died crowd is another great example of the melding of hyper partisanship and poor critical thinking skills, … I could go on and on… and these are exactly the type of profs who dont teach civics properly. My second post explains this quite well, but I guess my argument there was too good because everyone ignored it and pressed on with thier assumptions of what I said, or what they wish I had said, instead of tackling the meat of my argument.

  31. Chuck Norton said

    Ok I cant help but give one more lil clue…

    Those of us with a GOOD civics education know that the Founders could not have “set the example by freeing their slaves” as someone argued above….. WHY you ask… easy…. it was illegal to free slaves in most states…. and in states where it was legal, there were such heavy financial penalties for doing so, that for all practical purposes, it was still illegal. Perhaps that is why Geo. Washington and other Founders went from state to state to lobby to have the laws changed to make it easier to free slaves. Of course, the professor who thinks that the Founders were bad and that America is a mistake, is not likely going to teach their students that little fact are they?

    Maybe someone will show me some awesome ignorance of basic civics and try to tell me that I am wrong about what I just stated….. by all means take your best shot /licks chops.

  32. Erkki KochKetola said

    Cite, please, Chuck?

  33. Erkki KochKetola said

    Nevermind, I found reference to this law in The Journal of Negro History. What you forgot to mention, Chuck, is that this law was repealed in 1782.

    Still half-measures. I’m waiting for you to show me where any one of these gentlemen freed their slaves prior to being on their deathbeds, and encouraged others (through, say, setting up an anti-slavery society) to do so. Methinks you’ll have a great deal of trouble.

  34. Craig Chamberlin said


    In essence, I argued the 3/5ths was the beginning of the end for slavery, simply because it was contradicted within the Declaration of Independance. Thus, if the constitution can be read in the spirit of the Declaration (as I had cited the Supreme Court case above), then the beginning of the end of slavery had begun.

    I didn’t mention the correlation because the correlation is irrelevant to the study. In essence, the study proves there is a definite lack of education in the field of civics in all colleges (even more so in more prestigious colleges). However, the study does not prove it is a result of teaching bias. How could it be proven these students learned less as a direct result of teaching bias? I do not doubt something is going wrong in the more prestigious schools to account for their backwards-learning, but the study doesn’t directly relate it to critical thinking or bias.

    In essence, I’m not arguing teaching bias is a good thing. If you read my above articles, this is obvious. What I am showing is that your argument doesn’t hold much water to directly pointing the blame of backwards-learning on “secular-left” biased teachers. There are many elements to the equation of learning civics, not just teacher bias. While teachers such as these do exist and are hindering students abilities to properly learn factual civics your argument doesn’t prove this is the reason students are learning less in more prestigious schools.


    I’m going to address your most recent response regarding the earlier discussion when I get the time to sit down and write it : ).

  35. Craig Chamberlin said


    3. The majority is who drives the acceptance of the legal document. Therefore, it makes sense that bias would initially be placed into it for its ratification. Since the checks and balances system was also built into it, it is not by incident that the constitution was amended. There is no telling how the Founding Fathers would have reacted to the freeing of the slaves. In fact, as you stated above, they realized during the end of their life slavery was wrong, so it would only make sense that they would have endorsed the end of slavery by that time.

    One of the philosophical downsides and beauties of our documents checks and balance system is that it is driven by the majority. In other words, societal failures being addressed by the law requires nation wide realization of the failure. Until this failure is recognized, those who are suffering as a result of this failure will continue to suffer. However, if society is never allowed to learn of their societal failures, they would never accept a change in the document. This is by far one of the greatest ironies in our foundations. In order to preserve good, we need to allow the majority of the nation to understand evil, once this evil is understood society will accept a document that restricts it. To restrict the evil before society accepts it would be dangerous, because it risks the complete loss of faith in the document by the majority, thus forcing a new one created.

    It does make sense that such a document must allow for learning – because to restrict people from learning would be reckless and arrogant. It is sad to say us humans will suffer greatly before we learn our lessons. We will also allow those of us around us to suffer greatly before we address their suffering.

    So what is the quickest way to get people to understand evil in order to stop evil? Education of course. The quicker the majority of society acknowledges the evil the quicker it will be addressed. This will result in less suffering.

    4. Societies do fear change. It is simply a matter of context. Societies fear change in matters they do not understand. I agree with you that society is much more inclined to change if it believes it is for the better, but it is dangerous to force such change prior to societies understanding of it. This instills a state of fear into the nation, because they are forced to accept a change they do not understand. Once they do understand it, society will no longer fear the change.

    I must have failed to explain myself correctly, you stated:
    “I must also disagree with your assertion that “the only way we could do it [change society] is give the power of law to certain elite individuals who believe they know what is best for society to change the laws as social injustices are discovered.” ”
    I was not addressing changing society, I was addressing how our government is run. If we do not run our government by which the people hold it accountable through the Declaration of Independance, then there is only one other way to run it. This would require a few elite individuals to address what is considered justified and unjustified and pass said beliefs as legislation. This is not a place I would want to live in.

    I believe our constitution already empowers the people, we just do not take advantage of that power. It empowers the people to stand up against injustices in the government, and therefore change it. Yes, sometimes we try our best and still fail, but the measure of success is not by the overall amount of change, rather by the amount of people changed along the way, which is immeasurable. If one reveals the truth to one individual and another reveals it to none, then the first succeeded and the second failed. One person alone cannot change the world, but they can change people, and people can change the world.

    5. You believe the actual change was incidental, this is a matter of opinion. Given that they eventually accepted that slavery was wrong (on their deathbeds) I do not find it very unlikely that they would have accepted such changes in slavery. It is no accident that minorities must suffer before society accepts their suffering as wrong. It is, in fact, a sad truth to our documents foundation. Eventually, society recognizes it, and it is addressed. This is no incident, it is the philosophy by which the document was created. They knew they would be proven wrong.

  36. Joe D said

    I am responding to this post with a certain amount of apprehension. I am relatively new to this site and I read in the discussion thread for another of Chuck’s columns that he may actually be a satirical character and not a real person. So, at the risk of becoming the butt of this joke, I venture a serious reply to Chuck’s column.

    After reading Chuck’s column I was bewildered by the fact that he provided no explanation of how the quality of a civics curriculum can be seen as a measure of critical thinking skills. H. Scott pointed out this obvious and glaring flaw in his reply to Chuck’s column:

    “Speaking of critical thinking skills, how does the ISI report provide empirical evidence to back up Mr. Norton’s thesis: “I have noticed that professors from some of the most prestigious schools tend to be more like blind ideologues and have weaker critical thinking skills … Now I have some empirical evidence to back up that observation”?
    Is there a clear connection between knowledge of civics and critical thinking skills?”

    Chuck’s response to this comment proved to be even more bewildering. Chuck offered to provide an anecdotal example in private of a professor with poor critical thinking skills, which he could not disclose on the thread. He then offered a convoluted and very poorly articulated argument, the reasoning of which, as far as I could tell, went something like this:

    Being a blind ideologue would reduce one’s critical thinking skills
    Being a blind ideologue would also reduce one’s desire to teach civics (assuming that civics somehow contradicts one’s ideology)
    Therefore, the fact that civics is not taught well at these universities means the professors are blind ideologues and therefore have poor critical thinking skills.

    This argument clearly does not work because Chuck provides no evidence that the reason civics is not taught at these big/top schools is the “blind ideology” of the professors. While it is possible that blind ideology might reduce one’s desire to teach civics, Chuck fails to demonstrate that this is the reason civics are not taught well at big/top universities. In a further attempt to support his claim, Chuck provides several more anecdotal examples of professors who have different political views than himself, assuming that this difference in opinion is tantamount to blind ideology on their part. However, if having a political opinion makes one a blind ideologue, then Chuck must certainly admit that he is a blind ideologue, himself. Chuck also provides no evidence that these professors are the norm and not the exceptions. I, myself, could provide numerous anecdotal counter examples (I could also provide anechdotal examples to support any other point under the sun). Even if these examples can be taken as evidence of blind ideology (which they cannot be), they still do not, in any way, support Chuck’s original claim that poor civics curriculums are evidence of poor critical thinking skills.

    In the end, whether or not one is a blind ideologue cannot be ascertained from his or her substantive knowledge in a particular field (civics) or from his or her political views. It can only be ascertained from the coherence of the reasoning behind his or her political beliefs. Thus while Chuck has failed to demonstrate the blind ideology of professors at top universities, he has certainly revealed his own. Perhaps this is part of the joke. The satirist berates those he accuses of blind ideology in such an inept way that he hilariously reveals his own lack of critical thinking skills. Good satire indeed. Chuck, if you are, in fact, a satirist then hats off to you. You have done a good job in this column. If this column is real political punditry it is a poor example of such punditry (perhaps that is a redundant statement, though).

  37. Rachel Custer said

    Joe D.,

    Thank you for joining the discussion on the Vision weblog; please do not feel apprehensive about posting your opinion. We appreciate all feedback from different points of view, especially when it is as well-presented and intelligently written as your post. I hope you will continue to post in the future!


  38. Kevin C. said

    Joe D,
    Great post, though it is clear that the great satirist is no political pundit, but rather a great mind who in his infinite wisdom has chosen to reveal himself to us. Can’t you see what the great satirist is up to here? He commits the error of relying on anecdotal grounding for his claims. Then he accuses his opponent of committing the same error.
    (see post 9):
    Admittedly, this would seem like total hypocrisy if the great satirist were only a political pundit. But clearly the great satirist is trying to reveal his comedy laws to us, namely his first principle, the very essence of hilarious satire:
    Take whatever you are most guilty of, and accuse your opponent of this.

    The great satirist uses this principle like a clown’s kazoo to achieve bust-a-gut hilarity. And if you’re like me, Joe D, your stomach will probably never recover.

  39. Chuck Norton said

    If you wish to try and make the case that the anecdotal references I gave are unrepresentative than make the case and show me your evidence. If you wish to take a contrarian view and insist that most college professors are mostlty near Libertarian American traditionalists then please make your case. In the mean time please examine this link which contains links to studies showing that I just might be onto something

    Can you please attempt to make a better argument…. while I am amused at your defense of colleges where the freshmen beat the seniors…. you don’t make a convincing argument, but I encourage you to keep trying. Your statement has nothing to do with the fact that many of the biggest universities are doing the students a disservice, it is more likely that your poor argument is just a reflection of your hatred of me.

    In Kevin’s case this is even more clear, he does not even attempt to make an argument, he just goes straight for the hate.

    Someone needs to tell the radical left that hate is not a family value.

  40. Bret Matrix said

    That last line was priceless.

  41. Joe D said

    Thank you for responding in a manner that completely ignored all the points I made in my post. I provided a critique of your reasoning not a defense of any university’s civics curriculum. That is why is my “statement has nothing to do with the fact that many of the biggest universities are doing a disservice” as you so eloquently put it. The point of my post was to state that you provide no intelligable explanation of how the state of a school’s civics curriculum can be an indicator of the faculty’s critical thinking skills. Other people on this board have pointed out the same error and you have yet to provide any reasonable response. I am left to assume that you are either simply unable to respond or you really are a satirical character as people like Kevin C suggest. So, if you are a real person please explain, in response, the connection between civics and critical thinking. If your response does not include an explanation of this connection I will have to assume that you really are a satrical character and I will feel no need to respond seriously to any further comments you make.

  42. Rachel Custer said


    I have to agree to some extent with Joe D. regarding a disconnect in your article between civics curriculum and critical thinking skills. Knowing you a bit better than most on the blog, I don’t doubt that, given adequate time, you can make an argument for this connection. But I did feel the need to tune in with my opinion that the article does not provide complete information regarding this connection.

    Now, you know I don’t hate you. On the contrary, there are many points on which we agree. But I feel there are points in your article that can benefit from further discussion and clarity. Thanks for any response you have time to make. I know it’s been awhile since you originally wrote the article, so I don’t know how much trouble it will be for you to revisit it.


    Read the article carefully and read my responses carefully. I have responded to thier “point” but they go on as if I never did and seem intent on just repeating the same nonsense while ignoring the substance of the article.

    Look at what I said carefully – here I will even quote it exactly to make it easier for you:

    I mentioned that I have noticed that professors from some of the most prestigious schools tend to be more like blind ideologues and have weaker critical thinking skills than professors that hail from smaller schools. Now before everyone throws a fit, I can think of a couple of professors who I know that buck that trend, this was just a general observation I have noticed over time. Now I have some empirical evidence to back up that observation.

    OK now look carefully, did I say that this one piece of empirical evidence is 100% proof of all my observations?

    The answer is clearly no, but look at the argument that H.Scott and crew are making. They are claiming that I did make such an argument. When someone invents a point that you never made for the purpose of knocking it down that is called a “strawman argument”.

    As I stated when I first responded to their strawman argument, this piece is not an entire thesis to prove an observation, it is a one page piece that is just a cog in a bigger picture that I will be filling in for my upcoming book.

    Have you noticed how Erkki and Sam and H.Scott carefully avoid dealing with my strongest facts and points? Instead they set up a strawman argument based on a side observation as a means of attacking me. They do this in hopes that if they successfully attack me you won’t consider the points and facts that they cannot refute. – Chuck]

  43. Erkki Kochketola said


    Chuck is not a satirical character. This is how he writes. He really thinks he’s smarter than everyone else around him.

  44. Sam said

    Chuck Norton: see post #42.

    … WTF?

    Come on, tough guy. Defend yourself. Say something.


    IUSB Vision staff – strangely, I find myself worried about Chuck Norton. His positions are indefensible on nearly every thread he starts, so I can understand his being tongue-tied from a cognitive standpoint. But, is he truly okay? Someone may need to look after him. He needs to get his degree and get the heck out of there.

  45. […] way for the progressive secular left to destroy the ideals that our country was founded on than to see to it that students forget it. UNC Is being sued at the moment for religious discrimination by a member of the faculty and […]

  46. […] Posted by iusbvision on March 9, 2010 Pay special attention to the proposal to stop teaching history before 1877. As we have demonstrated before, the less people know about civics the more likely they are to accept progressive secular leftism, so what better way to have the young turn against America then to have them forget it? […]

  47. […] think that this is not typical or was rigged, there is empirical evidence to support this right HERE. Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Democrats Party ID at Record LowNeal Boortz on […]

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