Updated: March 18, 2014 6:07AM
Think quick, what’s the name of our vice president?
Think quick again, what’s the name of the father in “The Simpsons”?
When Newsweek challenged 1,000 Americans to complete the standard U.S. citizenship test, nearly one third of respondents couldn’t name Joe Biden as our VP.
Another survey conducted by the McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum showed that the majority of us could list more “Simpsons” characters than First Amendment rights.
Surprised? I’m not. I may be one of those ignorant, shameful Americans. Let me see, the First Amendment guarantees free press, free speech, freedom of religion and, uh…to petition government.
OK, let’s see, there is Homer Simpson, Marge, Bart, Lisa, Maggie, Krusty the Clown, Millhouse, Ned Flanders, Grandpa Simpson, Groundskeeper Willie and, must I continue to shame myself?
The bottom line is this: An alarming amount of Americans couldn’t pass a basic citizenship test while knowing more about the Kardashians than the U.S. Congress, as the old joke goes. Blame media, blame corporate America, blame our government, blame escapist entertainment.
Me? I blame us. Collectively, we’re lazy, stupid and woefully uneducated. We’re full of more opinions than truths, more propaganda than policies, more hot air than cold facts. And — here’s the kicker — we feel entitled to because we’re Americans.
What better day to remind ourselves of this humbling truth than today, on President’s Day. It’s an ideal time to question our shared knowledge of such basic information about our country, its history and current status.
Otherwise, how do we typically acknowledge President’s Day? By taking advantage of shopping sales on this federal holiday? By enjoying a day off from work for George Washington’s birthday? By slamming our current president while fondly recalling a previous one?
Let’s face it. Washington and our other founding fathers would be mortified over our general lack of knowledge about the nation they began — what I call “one notion under God.”
The least we can do today is re-educate ourselves about our nation, our government and, yes, our presidents. Otherwise, we deserve to be made fun of by the likes of Homer Simpson, who once quipped: “The whole reason we have elected officials is so we don’t have to think all the time.”
A child shall lead us
Despite our obligatory empathy or judgmental complaints about this societal scourge, it’s an issue most of us do nothing about. Not really.
Oh sure, we bemoan its existence. We offer knee-jerk solutions. And maybe we dish out a few bucks to a homeless person every once and a while. Then we conveniently forget about them, this chronic issue and what can be done to help the cause.
Like many of you, I’ve become jaded and skeptical through the decades about homeless people. First, are they really homeless? If so, why? Bad luck? Merciless economy? Mental illness? Substance abuse problems? No family? No explanation?
All of these thoughts race through my mind when I see a homeless person or when I’m asked to help them. They shouldn’t but they do anyway. I’m a skeptic by nature and a cynic by profession. I question everything.
If only I could still view this issue, like most others, through the prism of a child’s mind. With hope, curiosity, wonderment and no hidden agenda. Someone such as 8-year-old Sylvia Rodriquez of Chesterton.
Before her 8th birthday, Sylvia confided to her parents that she didn’t really need or want anything in the way of gifts. Just that admission alone should be cause for praise in a newspaper column. But that’s not where it ends.
Sylvia learned about the issue of homelessness and instinctively wanted to help.
Think of it in its simplest terms — people living without a place to call home. It sounds absurd, even cruel, to a child. How can this be? Where do they stay? How can I help them?
Her mother did a search for nearby homeless shelters and found Gabriel’s Horn in South Haven. For more than 10 years, the shelter has been a refuge from life’s storms for homeless women and their children. The facility not only houses fractured families, but also empowers women with education, counseling and referrals.
Sylvia, a second grader at Liberty Elementary School, decided on her own to directly help the blight of homelessness. She sent out birthday party invitations to her friends with one noticeable request: Don’t bring her a birthday gift.
Instead, she asked her friends to bring a donation for the homeless shelter. Her parents not only admired her selfless request, they embraced it.
“We called Gabriel’s Horn and asked them what they needed,” said Sylvia’s mother, Nicky Rodriquez. “Then we sent that list with her birthday invites.”
Sylvia collected a box of household items at her birthday party, including laundry soap, hygiene products, a gas card, Lysol wipes, shampoo, pillows and blankets. After her party, she and her mother delivered the items to the shelter.
“They were really appreciative,” Nicky told me.
While many of us adults overanalyze the complex issue of homelessness, judge its victims, or ignore its ripple effect in our culture, little Sylvia did something about it. And she did it by sacrificing a child’s most cherished asset: Birthday party gifts.
“My husband and I are blown away by this little girl,” Nicky said proudly. “She is so kind and giving, it really is amazing. I am not just saying this because she is my kid. She really is.”
Obviously, I replied.
This column isn’t to shame or blame anyone. Or to suggest such donations will end homelessness. It’s to simply remind us that we can help makes things a little better for those less fortunate, thanks to the charitable actions of an 8-year-old girl.
Homeless shelters can be found in most communities, including yours, but here is contact information for Gabriel’s Horn if needed: 364-8018 or email@example.com.
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