Who makes the rules?

Carl Parker

Several years ago, I had a friend who was a great golfer. In fact, for many years he held the course record on one of the municipal courses here in Port Arthur. My friend was given to entering serious golf tournaments around East Texas and once told me a story about what happened to him upon entering a tournament in Center, Texas.

He travelled to deep East Texas – Shelby County – with the full expectation of placing in the top few entrants into the local “big time” golf tournament. Surprisingly, his drive veered off into an area with unclear markings. My friend asked one of the local marshals, “Is this out of bounds?” The gentleman replied, “I don’t know. Whose ball is it?” The moral to this little story is that if you enter any game with the hope or expectation of winning, you had better know the rules as well as those who make them.

A great problem that I see facing America today is that too many of our citizens, particularly our younger generation, are entering the game of life without knowing the rules, and too often not knowing those who make the rules.

In over 30 years as an elected official in Austin, I was constantly amazed at the lack of knowledge demonstrated in letters sent to me by so-called sophisticated and supposedly knowledgeable members of the community. As an example, I once received a packet of bills with notations of how I should vote from a legislative chairman of one of our local chambers of commerce. The only problem with the communication was the bills marked by him were bills pending before the Congress of the United States in Washington, not bills in Austin.

It is fairly common in my conversations with people seeking advice about possible solutions of problems that they cannot identify their state representative, state senator, or even their city council person or county commissioner. Based on my experience, it would be my estimate that probably less than half of the citizens today can identify more than one or two officials when you get past the governor, lieutenant governor or president of the United States. Recent studies conducted of college graduates by several universities reveal a woesome lack of knowledge of the first and second amendment or other major parts of the Bill of Rights.

Further evidence of lack of knowledge or concern for how we are governed, or by whom, is reflected in the ever decreasing number of citizens participating in our elections. The problem, I believe, can simply be summed up by stating that when uncaring people don’t take the time to vote, uncaring people get elected.

One of the factors contributing to these problems, in my estimation, is the fact that Texas, along with several other states, has deemphasized the study of state and federal government in their course curriculums — both at the public school level and at the university or collegiate level. Unfortunately, the explosion of knowledge occurring in the last several decades has caused more pressure to demand more college hours devoted to their major disciplines. Unfortunately, those increases have come at the expense of fewer hours for government and civics courses.

A good democratic form of government demands a well-educated constituency instead of more and more standardized tests taking up the time of our public school students. As a nation, we would do well to universally require one major test to demonstrate a real working knowledge of how democratic government works and why it is important for American citizens to not only know what they are doing, but also to be motivated to participate in the selection of our leaders.

In all probability, in today’s world, immigrants to the United States know more about how we are governed than do many of our high school graduates. At least an immigrant must demonstrate a working knowledge of the English language and know basic, rudimentary information about the government, governing and geography of the United States before becoming a citizen.

If you really care about the future of a free democratic society in our country, you would do well to at least make inquiry of your local school officials as to what effort is being made to fully equip our emerging students with the rules and how the rules are made as they face life’s challenges when emerging as high school or college graduates.

Carl Parker has practiced law in Port Arthur since 1958. He is a 1958 graduate of the University of Texas School of Law. Elected to the Texas House of Representatives in 1962 and the Senate in 1976, Parker continued to practice law while writing and sponsoring hundreds of bills that became laws relating to every aspect of life in Texas, including many regarding consumer safety. His e-mail is cap1934 [at] aol [dot] com.