When CNN published a story about the report of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, everybody went nuts over the last sentence of the opening paragraph.
There is a crisis in American civic education. Survey after survey shows that recent college graduates are alarmingly ignorant of America’s history and heritage. They cannot identify the term lengths of members of Congress, the substance of the First Amendment, or the origin of the separation of powers. They do not know the Father of the Constitution, and nearly 10% say that Judith Sheindlin—“Judge Judy”—is on the Supreme Court.
That means 90%* know that Judge Judy is an entertainer, playing a judge on TV, where she amuses the audience by her prescient cries that one of her small claims litigants is lying before they even say a word. How much fun is that!
Well, Jonathan Turley isn’t amused.
I am admittedly not a fan of faux television judges who, in my view, degrade our profession and trivialize the legal process. (here and here). Judge Judy and other faux judges caricature the legal system and misrepresent how conflicts are legally addressed. They use people as if they were circus animals performing for the entertainment of the public. The fact that anyone would even confuse Judge Judy with a real jurist is incredibly depressing.
Of course these faux television judges trivialize the legal process. They get a half hour to do two cases, start to finish. And the cases are, for the most part, laughably trivial, and presented by litigants who couldn’t argue their way out of a paper bag. Not that it matters, because the judge is the star of the show, and has to smack them around a bit, picking the winner in the first 30 seconds and then beating the lying loser to a pulp before he (it’s usually, though not always, a “he”) can do more than smirk and utter the first syllable of protest.
But the show made Judge Judy filthy rich, and she surely wasn’t getting there when she was a real judge.
In July 2010 when Sheindlin’s contract was renewed, her salary increased to $45 million per year. It was later reported in October 2013 that Sheindlin is the highest-paid TV star, earning $47 million per year for Judge Judy, which translates into just over $900,000 per workday (she works 52 days per year).
But when she isn’t hard at work for those 52 days per year when she earns her $47,000,000 salary, she gives freely of herself for the improvement of the public’s knowledge of law.
However, CNN and other networks routinely ask her to comment on legal issues as if she were anything other than an entertainer. The merging of law and entertainment does not produce some hybrid. It simply produces entertainment like an [sic] dominant social gene.
But then, “CNN and other networks” are in the business of getting people to watch their programming, because eyeballs translate into advertising revenues, which translates into salaries paid and profits earned. And really, isn’t that what the law, what civic virtue, is all about?
As for the 10% who believe that Judge Judy is a Supreme, that seems to be a huge win for our educational system, our college students and our society. That 90% know otherwise is, frankly, pleasantly surprising. Things like names of important public officials are good to know, but are not nearly as important as a basic grasp of what government does, how it functions, what the Constitution means.
And when it comes to these things, a 90% success rate is an unachievable dream.
The chief diversity officer of the University of Iowa said her office plans to have a bias assessment response team in place on campus by the end of the current semester.
The proposed team — which would be known by the acronym BART — would address complaints of racial or other bias on campus concerning incidents that “skirt the line between a policy violation or even a crime.”
“We do need to differentiate between free speech and hate speech,” said Dodge, who also is on the Board of Directors for ACLU Iowa. “I think there are ways that people can abuse freedom just as they can abuse any other gift that they’re given. I think that a BART will help us keep people informed of when they are walking over that line.”
That’s from Georgina Dodge, chief diversity officer and associate vice president of the University of Iowa, and ACLU board member, explaining that free speech doesn’t include hate speech, and how her BART (cool acronym, right Mehserle?) will swoop down upon those who “abuse freedom.”
So leave Judy out of it. She’s no clown, Turley, but an entertainer making $47 million a year, even more than they pay a GW lawprof and occasional television personality. If we need an example of how college students are clueless about civic virtues, there are far more serious problems:
What knowledge students do receive of their history is often one-sided and tendentious. Lately, student protesters have sought to expunge historic figures like Thomas Jefferson or Woodrow Wilson from campus, deeming these men too flawed to deserve monuments or buildings that bear their names. These protesters properly remind us of the cancer of racism that has infected our nation, but their demands are made on campuses where there is little reason to believe that students are sufficiently grounded in knowledge and understanding of the history of America and its civic institutions to make sound judgments.
The problem isn’t that they’re sitting in their dorm rooms watching Judge Judy, but that they’re empowered by administrators like Georgina Dodge to believe whatever lie confirms their passionate beliefs. And as the study shows, it’s not going to get any better, as students bask in their ignorance, bolstered by a proliferation of very expensive programs that accomplish nothing.
You don’t see Judge Judy shelling out cash to pay for an endowed chair in critical race theory, do you? She’s too smart to waste her salary on such crap.
*There may be some who confuse Judge Judy with Kim Kardashian, but does this really require further discussion?