Team Jonesboro’s gift

Two hundred-eleven votes. In Tuesday’s context as the margin of defeat for Jonesboro’s proposed sales tax, the figure is reminiscent of Della’s one dollar and 87 cents in the classic O. Henry tale.

Both stories are about pennies; both numbers are small potatoes against a larger purpose.

Two hundred-eleven votes in defeat translates into 106 changed minds out of 10,000 votes cast. Or 212 more supporters finding their way to a polling place out of 26,000 registered nonvoters.

Team Jonesboro is the grass-roots group that proposed the one-cent sales tax to fund public safety and amenities. It helped create an Oversight Integrity Council giving citizens a voice and adding a layer of sunlight accountability on the city council. The election’s unofficial final tally was 4,805 for and 5,016 against.

For the Team Jonesboro faithful, the past three months tripped by on rosy wings, to borrow O. Henry’s “hashed metaphor.” It started with 500 people attending the first reading of the proposed initiative—so many that the council chambers overflowed an hour before the meeting, and the annex room was packed. Old-time observers reported seeing opposition mobs that size in the past, but never such a crowd in support of something.

From there the fresh, young movement ascended and accelerated, the way Della wriggled from her chair to rush to Jim when he first caught sight of her cut-off hair.

Volunteer form submissions poured in from the Team Jonesboro website, as did online donations. Nearly 1,000 people signed up on the team roster, and site traffic reached 12,000 page views in 100 days. Team Jonesboro videos on Facebook were watched some 80,000 times. The page’s posts collected countless likes and shares and comments, and as many derivatives across others’ pages.

Yard signs lined streets everywhere, in front of houses small and large, in neighborhoods old and new.

Standing on a busy downtown corner, holding a sign on election day, I saw innumerable motorists smiling and waving, giving a thumbs-up, honking and a few shouting “Go Team Jonesboro” like cheerleaders.

Yet amid a veritable sea of active engagement and manifest support, 211 drops kept the tide from turning for Jonesboro.

Most municipalities would give anything for a bottle of the energy drink that Team Jonesboro brought to town. When local politicians post videos online, they hope for 800 views; they can only dream of 80,000. A local press conference of any sort would call 40 a “crowd,” while Team Jonesboro’s launch event gathered 400.

The razor-close electoral defeat notwithstanding, the Team Jonesboro movement has mobilized people who are sick and tired of frequent shootings and crime. Who are fed up with hometown hypocrites that happily pay higher sales taxes in every other place but not their own (Jonesboro’s sales tax is below the state average).

Who want, as Jonesboro continues to grow in population, to have above-average things for their families and children that other similar-sized cities invest in through local taxation: museums, sports complexes, performing arts facilities, amphitheaters, parks and pathways, bicycle trails, aquatic centers.

In providential fashion, the day after the election I attended a Patriot’s Day ceremony featuring a speech by retired Rev. Stuart Hoke.

Hoke was assistant pastor of historic Trinity Church on Wall Street in New York, just blocks from the World Trade Center towers, and witnessed the terrorist attack 18 Septembers ago.

In a riveting 20-minute talk, he related the initial innocence of a subway skipped stop because of a “problem” at the North Tower; the ear-splitting sound of the second jet and the holocaust of flame as it flew into the South Tower; the “bam-bam-bam-bam” sound and 4.0 Richter scale shudders as the “unthinkable” occurred when the first of the two collapsed.

He described walking preschool children away from danger, and being assisted when a Metro Transit Authority bus materialized, looking to help. He told of how hundreds of private watercraft, from fishing boats to pleasure yachts, all piloted by “normal people like you and me,” ferried 100,000 people to safety off the island.

Hoke’s story of hope bringing good from bad, light from darkness, life from death—whether in the most monumental atrocities, like 9/11, or in the most mundane disappointments, like a local sales tax vote—couldn’t have come at a better time. His call to remember how our nation put aside its differences to come together in a moment of raw pain and despair couldn’t have struck a more resonant chord.

Team Jonesboro may have lost the election on Tuesday, but it had already won the hearts of the people. A silly stumble of a paltry 211 votes at the polls won’t stop them now.

They have begun to sense what a safer, stronger community can feel like. For maybe the first time, locally, they truly understand E pluribus unum.

Team Jonesboro was, and is, unity out of many. They gave all, but gained in losing. They are the Magi.

And for the rest of the state interested in inspiring local goings-on, their movement and what they intend to accomplish will be worth watching.

Self-government foundation

Smart conservatives support local taxation for a number of solid reasons, but none more important than this one: It’s the first-order foundation of self-government.

Going all the way back to colonial times, taxation itself (which Oliver Wendell Holmes called the price we pay for civilization) has never been the problem. What the colonists resented and resisted was unrepresented taxation commandeered by faraway Parliament for its purposes.

Conservatives have rightly cast a wary eye toward tax schemes that send money to state capitals and Washington, D.C., where bureaucracies create waste, inefficiency and unintended consequences. Communities that tax themselves locally, however, are the purest form of the American experiment.

In the early days of the republic, the federal government had no money, and local communities had no expectation of financial assistance from it.

Their schools, crime issues, health care, streets and sanitation, and economy were all matters of primary importance, and the people responsible for looking out for their best interests were themselves. Their famed town-hall meetings boiled down to collectively prioritizing community needs and figuring out how to formulate local tax strategies to fund them.

Those communities with the most foresight, vision and planning tended to thrive. Those with the most infighting, naysaying and non-planning tended to struggle.

It’s a pattern that continues to this day.

In cities as in life, failing to plan is planning to fail. Looking over the state map, a given city’s fortunes can change pretty quickly, and often do. Some formerly prominent cities and towns are empty shadows of what they once were. Some formerly obscure places have ballooned beyond what anyone thought they could be.

In those places struggling with lost population and hard times, residents often remark how fast the decline befell them. In those celebrating growth and prosperity, they routinely point to heroic efforts by local crusaders, which typically included investment through local taxation.

Great communities don’t happen by accident. Prudent self-government is attained by self-taxation. How to best fund and plan growth is something cities large and small constantly grapple with. A timely example is the one-cent sales tax campaign in Jonesboro.

Voters on Tuesday will decide the fate of the grass-roots proposal that introduced an innovative accountability twist: Its ordinance restricts revenue uses to police, fire and a few specific “quality of life” capital categories. It created an “Oversight Integrity Council” to review and recommend eligible projects. That committee heard preliminary requests from citizens and nonprofit groups last week, and, intrigued by the concept, I sat in on some of the presentations.

I’d been in the Chambers room, and others like it in nearby towns, before. I’d also watched live-streamed video of council or subcommittee meetings from there—most of which, let’s face it, can be pretty dry. The feeling I normally get from such meetings, true or false, is that much of the discussion and decision-making seems to have already happened backstage.

This Oversight Integrity Council was surprisingly different.

In ordinary municipal meetings there are a lot of bored expressions around the table. But the council members were as engaged as the presenters. It was obvious from their questions that they were active listeners and paying close attention.

The presenters were all passion-filled people and strong believers in the projects they proposed. Each articulated well-planned dreams for a better city. All the projects sought to provide real community benefits to people and visitors via parks, recreational facilities, museums, arts centers, libraries, bicycle paths, sidewalks, and more.

I’d call it de Tocqueville déjà vu. Here were ordinary citizens, many of them making do with underfunded ingenuity to serve Jonesboro’s surging population needs, coming alive with vibrant ideas on how their city can catch up to its better-funded peers on high-value public amenities.

You couldn’t have cut the energy in that room with a lightsaber.

It was impressive. It was powerful. It was uniting. It was inspiring.

I wish everyone could have seen what I saw.

My rural address is outside the city limits, so I can’t vote for the penny tax in Jonesboro. But I can say with confidence that it has kindled the kind of animating force that propels communities forward when they confront a seminal moment of truth, as all cities must do at certain population milestones.

Raising the sales tax would bring Jonesboro right in line with the state average, but still below all the central and northwest Arkansas cities of comparable size, and a full penny or more lower than most neighboring towns.

The proverbial penny-wise/pound-foolish lesson unfortunately remains lost on some well-meaning conservatives who lump national and local taxation together as equal evils. As with other blinder/blunder situations, the big picture suffers.

Once tax dollars leave a city and get sent to bolster budgets in Washington or Little Rock, they never come back whole. And whatever fraction does filter back usually winds up funding reactive safety-net programs, not fueling proactive civic and community investment for progress.

Only local tax proceeds can do that, and they do it at full strength and face value.

Smart conservatives should understand that. And vote accordingly.

Glimpse of a gun criminal

Gun-control advocates need to get out more. Specifically, they need to meet some of the real people who repeatedly commit gun crimes.

One such individual in Craighead County made the news this past weekend by posting a Facebook video in which he admitted to killing a woman, and also threatened to kill others as he drove toward Jonesboro.

As he cursed incessantly, he occasionally reached over, grabbed a handgun and held it up for emphasis.

In an mf-bomb-laced monologue, he was brazen about his alleged crime (“the b * * * h deserved it”), who his next victims might be (“I’m coming for y’all … in Jonesboro”) and what his intentions were (“I’m shooting in the m * * * * * f * * * * * g face”).

The man filmed himself while driving around in the victim’s vehicle, and later surrendered to police and was charged with capital murder. Despite his video-recorded comments and police reports of a full confession, he is presumed innocent of the murder charge until proven guilty in a court of law.

But like so many other gun criminals, he’s guilty of plenty of previous crimes–including breaking gun laws without blinking.

He pleaded guilty to first-degree terroristic threatening and possession of a firearm by a felon in 2008, and it’s disconcerting to consider the possibility that ever since he could have been illegally carrying guns around.

Like so many other domestic-violence victims, the murdered woman had taken out a protective order against the man on Aug. 8. It now looks like he violated his parole, the restraining order, and the prohibition against possessing a firearm.

Once again, we have a prime example of the rampant recidivism among gun criminals.

When it’s clear that the main violators of gun laws are criminals who “don’t give a f***,” as this man said over and over on his video, about what the law says about guns, it’s laughably ludicrous to suggest that the way to stop them is to enact additional gun laws.

Once again, the operative word in the phrase “gun criminal” is the second one. Criminals who decide to carry guns often wind up using them. A violent felon can always get a gun as long as he is part of free society.

It’s so common for a felon with a previous gun crime to wind up committing another gun crime that it’s essentially predictable. And all too often, the severity of the crimes escalate; what started out first as flashing a gun for effect ultimately becomes firing a gun in a murder or maiming later on.

Had this man gotten 15 years of prison time without parole instead of a suspended sentence in 2008, he would not have been free to shoot anyone. And the victim would not have died Saturday from multiple gunshot wounds.

It’s time for a two-prong, divide-and-conquer fundamental change in our crime fighting strategy and justice system.

The first prong: Divide criminals in a way that aligns with human nature. Some people are capable of maliciously hurting innocents on a regular basis, others are not. It’s logical, smart and right to treat them differently.

With repeat violent offenders, the question isn’t if, but when. It’s much easier to simply keep a ticking bomb far away from a neighborhood than to try and protect the local population from an imminent detonation next door.

People also need to know who the dangerous criminals among them are, which is why Arkansas needs a violent offender registry (like the sex offender registry), with double asterisks on those convicted of gun crimes.

The latest state to add a violent offender registry is Ohio, where the measure passed the state’s House unanimously and the Senate 24-3.

Also, anyone convicted of a felon-in-possession charge who becomes the subject of a protective or restraining order needs to be immediately searched as a matter of protocol. They should be presumed recidivist, and primed and ready to open fire if certain situations escalate.

Felons have no Fourth Amendment protections, and if an illegal gun is found in his home or car, he can be immediately jailed—which will provide real restraint and protection for the petitioning woman who fears for her safety.

The second prong: Conquer gun crime by stiffening sentencing laws for felons who possess firearms before they graduate to actually shooting people.

That’s the point in time—before they’ve killed anyone—to put them away for enough years so they will come out older, weaker and perhaps wiser than when they went in.

If a twice-convicted felon re-arms himself, it should be a life sentence, period. That’s the best way to protect society from what is the highest-risk criminal known to police: a repeat gun offender with a violent past.

Longer sentences will run prison costs up. But a steep reduction in gun crime will push victimization costs, such as health care and missed work and lost productivity, down to offset the increase in incarceration expenses.

Life is the most basic right and the priceless precursor to other rights deriving from liberty and pursuit of happiness. Filling prisons with disarmed felons will undoubtedly save innocent, productive lives.

Common core consequences

Few bandwagons were jumped on so quickly by so many, and with such voluminous fanfare, than the one bearing the banner of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) initiative. Nine years ago this month, nearly every “crat” from every governmental and civic bureau united in leaping ovation behind “new standards” that would revolutionize and modernize American education.

Arne Duncan, President Obama’s education secretary, dove completely off the deep end in rabid support, claiming the Common Core standards could wind up being “the single greatest thing to happen to public education in America since Brown v. Board of Education.”

Well, not quite.

Following a seven-year federal study, the national data are in and the “Race to the Top” funding that drove Common Core adoption wound up creating a Twist toward the Bottom effect on student achievement.

“Contrary to our expectation” is how researchers at the Center of Standards, Alignment, Instruction and Learning (C-SAIL) described the CCSS’s derailing of an upward trend in observed fourth-grade reading scores from 2005 to 2010. Between 2010 and 2017, “[t]he table reveals significant negative effects for grade 4 reading,” the study noted.

The findings got even worse: the C-SAIL authors calculated a “counterfactual,” predicting what the National Assessment of Educational Progress composite scores would have been had states not adopted CCSS.

The reading achievement “would have improved significantly more after the adoption of the new standards had the states continued with their old standards,” they concluded. In layman’s language, students would have been better off had critics of Common Core (and there were many) been listened to.

Karen Lamoreaux’s 2014 viral video lampooning the CCSS “critical thinking” solution to a simple math problem has been viewed more than 3.5 million times—and comments are still being posted on it as recently as this week. She called her example, in which students were expected to draw circles and count hash marks rather than employ simple division, as “not rigorous.” I called it ridiculous.

It turns out the C-SAIL study validates us both: Eighth-grade math scores also suffered a “significant negative effect,” with observed scores in the wake of Common Core interference actually dropping below where they were in 2006—four years before adoption.

And if that’s not bad enough, researchers found it “troubling” that the achievement declines got worse over time.

Common Core is the disaster that just keeps on damaging. But the billions in lost funding and countless wasted hours pale against the colossal opportunity costs inflicted, as indicated by a 2016 Harvard University study linking student performance on math tests to state GDP growth per person.

Besides demonstrating that raising all states’ math test scores to “basic” levels would add $32 trillion to the national economy, gains were estimated for each state. The positive economic impact of lifting student achievement would be greatest in states where achievement levels are lowest, like Arkansas.

If all states could improve math scores to the top-performing state’s level (Minnesota), the projected GDP gain in Arkansas would be nearly 700 percent, or somewhere around $800 billion.

Like other leviathans spawned by the national education-industrial complex, even opposite-of-desired effects aren’t enough to discredit the “experts” who foisted Common Core on schools, teachers and parents who all knew better.

True believers, like Duncan, remain unrepentant. The only lesson they learned is the same old bureaucrat’s blame-game excuse: They didn’t spend enough money.

If anything, the uncommonly awful Common Core spectacle should spark increasingly credible calls for the abolition of the federal Department of Education (a lamentable Jimmy Carter legacy).

Its focus was flawed from the start, looking at schools as a massive system to be tweaked, instead of individual students to be taught. And its lens forever skewed by the Washington tendency to use funding as a policy club to beat states into submission.

Federal money can be a blinder, as the C-SAIL study so clearly reveals. State education departments and schools all clamored for the Common Core financial reward, only to discover nine years later that not only did the standards fail to improve learning, but succeeded in impairing it.

Signed into law 40 years ago this fall, the federal education department has overseen more than $1.7 trillion in spending ostensibly to make schools better. Should continued funding be the consequence for instead making them worse?

It’s tough to name any laws, regulations or policies emanating from the Washington education bureaucracy that don’t prompt a disapproving head-shake among the real educators in our schools—teachers in the classrooms.

The department can’t even justify its existence with any evidence-based performance metrics. Ironically, the C-SAIL study was funded by the Obama administration for the purpose of proving Common Core’s effectiveness.

A bill to end the 4,000-bureaucrat education department was re-introduced by Kentucky Republican congressman Thomas Massie in February, mostly as a symbolic gesture since Democrats in control generally want the federal government to have an even heavier hand in education policy.

Four decades of failure is enough for any federal department, especially one that’s become demonstrably detrimental to its supposed constituency.

Plugging the brain drain

The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center reported last week that overall enrollment at U.S. colleges and universities was down for the seventh year in a row.

In the past three years, the national average has been down by 1.5 percent, 1.3 percent in 2018 and 1.7 percent respectively, for a total reduction of 4.5 percent.

Arkansas is already handicapped in college education, ranking low among states in percentage of population with bachelor’s degrees, and was tied for seventh-worst in this year’s enrollment drop at 3.7 percent. Over the three-year period since 2017, total higher education enrollment in Arkansas is down more than 8 percent.

Enrollment data aren’t the whole picture, however. An increase in retention and graduation rates can offset an enrollment decline in terms of degree productivity, which is just what the Arkansas Department of Higher Education reported in its most recent annual report.

Of the most recent four-year class studied (2018), 36.3 percent graduated college within four years. While still low on the national scale, that’s a big gain over the previous year’s rate of only 25.8 percent.

Arkansas community colleges saw an even larger leap, as the 2018 rate of 21.2 graduating within two years is more than half-again higher than the previous 15.5 percent figure.

Credentialed education translates directly into performance metrics across several lifestyle categorizations, including earning power, parenting, citizenship and lawfulness. Generally speaking, leaving a lot of room for exceptions, better-educated people do better overall. Brain power, as shaped and developed through higher education and skilled training, therefore becomes an important community asset.

Areas with a lot of it, presumably, will progress more than those with less.

That line of reasoning is the basis for a measurement scale developed by Bloomberg called its “Brain Concentration Index.” Using comprehensive Census Bureau information, with an emphasis on STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) employment statistics, Bloomberg issues a dual set of lists each year.

Each list ranks metropolitan areas with a population of 90,000 or more according to a set of scoring measures. The first list scores MSAs on STEM work-force concentration, percentage of population possessing advanced degrees or science and engineering credentials, and net business establishment formation. It’s dominated by major metro areas like Boulder, Colo.; Durham, N.C.; and Seattle.

The other, more dubious, list is for “Brain Drain.” It assesses metropolitan areas on the outflow of advanced-degree holders, negative changes in white-collar jobs and STEM pay, and net business closures. Bloomberg’s bottom 10 on the Brain Drain Index are all much smaller MSAs, and lamentably Arkansas is one of nine states represented.

The Jonesboro MSA, roughly 135,000 people, is one of 366 MSAs in the country with more than 90,000 population. Size-wise, Jonesboro is number 304 and improving, with population growth estimated to be more than 15 percent by the 2020 census.

Coming in at No. 7 in the nation on the 2018 Bloomberg Brain Drain Index, Jonesboro’s worst score was on pay changes for jobs in STEM fields.

Obviously, nobody wants to rank high on a list with a name like Brain Drain, and in other places such publicity has provided a sort of “kick in the pants” to refocus and improve. Arkansas in general, as a small and agricultural state, will never fare as well on a list like the Bloomberg index. But it can always improve, and there are a number of examples from other places on ways to do it.

Last year, the Muskegon, Mich., MSA was No. 1 on the Brain Drain Index; this year it fell to number 10 and residents likely hope to be off the list altogether in the next round.

Muskegon used a free two-year tuition scholarship program for area high school seniors with high (3.5+) grade point averages to encourage bright local students to continue their education close to home. Historically, many of the highest GPA students had headed off to larger universities. The tuition incentive resulted in about half of the eligible seniors accepting local scholarships in 2018.

Another brain power attraction strategy focuses not on college selection for high schoolers, but debt reduction for college graduates.

At least 35 states, including Arkansas, have some form of student-loan forgiveness programs in place. But these typically are industry-specific, such as programs for teachers, veterinarians and public service.

Maybe individual communities should warm to the idea that debt forgiveness can be a powerful incentive for highly educated adults (who often have high student-loan balances) to locate in their area.

In a study by the American Institute of CPAs, millennial job seekers burdened by student loans named repayment of loan debt as the job benefit they valued most—ahead of health insurance, paid time off and matching retirement. Coupled with a scholarship program prioritizing local colleges and universities, an MSA-specific debt-forgiveness measure—based on location rather than field of work—might be a way to rapidly plug any community’s brain drain.

It’s new ground, for sure. But worth pioneering.

Locality & liberty

Saturday marks the date back in 1787 that a quorum was reached at the Philadelphia State House, and George Washington dropped gavel to open deliberations at the constitutional convention.

Students of the founding era are familiar with Joseph Ellis, who has written biographies and histories of the characters and events that produced the American Revolution and the U.S. Constitution.

I recently finished The Quartet, which is subtitled “Orchestrating the Second American Revolution 1783-1789.” Ellis’ “Fantastic Four” (as one reviewer put it) are legendary names: Washington, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay. These titans of thought regarding self-government made priceless contributions to the national charter document. But a trio of the quartet—Madison, Hamilton and Jay—was perhaps most crucial in their persuasive work at the state and local level during the debate over ratification.

Constitution Article VII required approval by nine states for adoption, and proponents knew that was far from a done deal. Indeed, a key part of the orchestration Ellis chronicles is the successful behind-the-scenes maneuvering to keep the testy Virginia and New York legislatures from rejecting ratification too early. Neither wound up voting until after New Hampshire became the ninth state to ratify, and even then the vote was close in both states.

History underplays the education campaign among the citizens that was necessary to convince them to support and authorize a centralized power structure that seemed reminiscent of British Parliament. What happened was what we would call today an incredibly effective content marketing campaign, with The Federalist Papers in the anchoring blog role as citizens searched for answers amid rampant misinformation, fear-mongering and fake news.

In the end, there would have been no national achievement in constitutional government had there not been vibrant and contentious discussion and discourse in local town halls, pubs and newspapers.

Locality is where liberty is most fully experienced.

Ellis’ quartet and its substantial supporting cast well understood that, and the ratification campaign capitalized on it. Nearly a quarter-millennium later, in a time of instant and far-flung connectivity, we are quicker to forget.

Three separate events in two days this week helped me to remember and refocus. Each involved a foundational feature of a free society: education, culture and local governance.

First, I attended a small school sixth-grade graduation ceremony, where my nephew attends.

Even though education has a Cabinet position in the federal government, and is administered through a state agency, learning is still dispensed and obtained at the classroom level. The main actors on that all-important stage are parents, children and teachers—all of which were gathered on Monday night to celebrate the completion of elementary school for a small group of sixth-graders.

The students marched in, sat on the stage, sang a couple of songs, and then excitedly accepted their “diplomas.” Families took photos of kids with classmates and teachers. It was educational achievement at its granular, grass-roots best.

Want to improve education? Get involved at a school near you. On the board or a committee or as a volunteer.

After the graduation ceremony, I went to see a community theatrical production titled The Music Show, which showcased local vocalists and musicians in a well-conceived, superbly presented and excellently choreographed performance.

I had friends in the show, including some that surprised me. I knew one of my buddies could strum a guitar, but I had no idea he could pull off a Brian May riff solo and send The Forum Theatre crowd wild.

From classic covers of Elvis, Patsy Cline and Johnny Cash to Bon Jovi, Billy Joel and the Eagles to OneRepublic and Taylor Swift, kids and adults passionately sang and danced. Audience members enthusiastically cheered and applauded. A Broadway tribute portion featured the Foundation of Arts’ cast members from Les Miserables singing “One Day More,” which pushed the bravo decibel level to the max. It was inspiring live entertainment delivering enjoyment as only it can.

Tired of R-rated, F-bomb-laced movies defining down entertainment in your community? Get involved in local arts as a performer or teacher or production member or volunteer.

The next night I sat in on the local city council meeting in support of a sales tax to fund growth in public safety and quality of life to match the city’s rising population trajectory.

The council opened with the pledge of allegiance. Some councils in other places don’t, which gives fulfilling meaning to our prized federalist freedoms.

Watching people weigh ideas and consider concepts for attainment of a future beyond themselves is energizing. Observing dissenters freely voice their reservations is uplifting, in that it reminds us that since the very start Americans celebrate debate as a distilling process for civic progress.

National political conflicts abound and it’s easy to get sucked in to those mostly academic arguments, but self-government truly begins in your own backyard.

Local issues usually need more education among the populace. Get involved in giving good local governance ideas the public hearing they need, and you’ll do more than experience a small glimmer of how the founding generation felt.

You’ll be a better citizen. And that makes a better nation.

Electoral dunces

Eleven members of the gaggle comprising the Democratic presidential primary field are on record in favor of abolishing the electoral college.

Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet says it’s “antiquated.” New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand calls it a “distorted system.” Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee labels it an “artifact of the 13 colonies.” For California’s Marianne Williamson it represents “a risk to our democracy.”

None of those people who would be president have even cracked 1 percent in 2020 polling to date, so their tough talk on the issue may merely be an attempt to grab a headline.

But some real contenders support the idea of dumping the electoral college for a direct presidential election, including Sens. Bernie Sanders (Vermont) and Elizabeth Warren (Massachusetts).

Basing opposition to any time-tested 232-year-old method on short-term discontent appears foolish at best. It calls into doubt the fitness to pass one of those civics exams that regularly remind us how ignorant We the People are about our form of government.

Barely one in five Americans can name James Madison as the “father of our Constitution.” Narrowed to college-graduated respondents, the number rises only slightly to 28 percent. Madison was instrumental not only in drafting the Constitution in convention at Philadelphia, but also securing its ratification as one of the authors of The Federalist Papers.

If it seems appalling that so few recognize Madison’s role in the founding, consider the tinier number who might be able to properly identify Publius, the pseudonym Madison and cohorts John Jay and Alexander Hamilton used in writing the Federalist essays.

Then consider the infinitesimal minority of Americans who know the name of Gabriel de Mably.

Thomas Jefferson was in Paris on diplomatic duty during the time the constitutional convention was being orchestrated, but sent two trunkloads of books to Madison to review in preparation (true to form, he itemized the list and cost in a letter). Many of the works of de Mably, an 18th century philosopher with expertise in Roman history, were included in the shipment–and repeatedly referenced in the founders’ voluminous correspondence.

Rare are the Americans today who can accurately place the Roman Republic or the Athenian Democracy on a timeline; the founders studied writings and histories on each extensively. Their collective examination and analysis of ancient democracies is what shaped their wisdom and decisions involving the creation of a representative republic, and the method of electing its president.

“Had every Athenian citizen been a Socrates, every Athenian assembly would still have been a mob,” Madison wrote to help explain the recurring constitutional theme of cooling destructive populist passions with deliberative decision-making.

Admittedly, it’s tough for any modern-day politician of either party to not appear dunce-like against the exceptional brilliance and education of the luminous minds that influenced the nation’s constitutional framing.

But before opinions on ditching the electoral college can carry real weight, critics need to study up on lessons from classical civilizations. Once enlightened on the subject as the erudite founders were, Democrats might well arrive at the same conclusions and find new affection for the electoral college.

Because they don’t want to come to those conclusions, Sanders and Warren, et al., don’t really want to bother with the information, facts and knowledge that produced them in the founders’ minds.

John Adams spent the last 25 years of his life writing essays, books and thousands of letters in which he discussed political theory, government, the nature of men and the American experiment at length.

One of his famously quoted epistles is a colossal correspondence from 1814 to John Taylor, in which Adams eviscerates popular democracy as being “more bloody” while it lasts than aristocracy or monarchy.

“Remember, democracy never lasts long,” he wrote. “It soon wastes, exhausts and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.”

Adams argued that the genius of the American Constitution is its mixing of the three primary forms of government to achieve restraining checks and balances, each in proper measure according to its role: a more democratic House, a more aristocratic Senate, a president with executive power, and an independent judiciary.

The letter exceeds 28,000 words, and is replete with prodigious examples of Adams’ amassed intellectual acuity over 79 years of life. For instance, in defending his own predilection toward natural aristocracy, he used quotes about beauty from Plato, Theophrastus, Diogenes, Carneades, Theocritus and Bion.

Having never read any except Plato from that list myself, all valuable knowledge from the others is lost on me. By sharing, Adams slightly elevated my understanding, and pricked my curiosity.

The overarching point is that there’s nothing simple about the ideas behind the electoral college, and it’s a dishonest public disservice to voice simplistic reasons for dissolving it.

If anything continually leaps from the leading founders’ writings in harmony, it’s their warning that there can never be liberty without learning. Education is to the republic what responsibility is to rights.

What those who flippantly dismiss the electoral college have forgotten (if they ever knew it to begin with) is that the founders’ purpose in forming the Constitution was never to deliver democracy—it was to protect us from it.