Based on National Assessment of Education Progress tests, the formal assessment exams given to students across the nation to gauge what they’re learning, American students exhibit an alarming lack of proficiency in government and economics.
As of 2006 (the last year for which statistics were available when I researched the book), only 36 percent of high school seniors could name the government’s primary source of income. (That would be taxes, kids.) Only 33 percent could explain the effect of an increase in real interest rates on consumer borrowing, and a scant 11 percent could analyze how a change in unemployment rates affects income, spending and production.
And of course, it’s not just young adults who are civically illiterate. In 2008, the Intercollegiate Studies Institute administered a basic 33-question civic literacy test to a random sample of 2,508 American adults. Respondents had a range of educational attainment from high school diplomas to advanced degrees.
Questions came from past institute surveys, as well as from nationally recognized exams, such as the U.S. government’s citizenship test and the National Assessment of Education Progress test. Respondents also were asked questions regarding their level of engagement in other activities that may or may not contribute to civic literacy.
The average score for all Americans who took this straightforward civic literacy test was 49 percent, or an “F,” proving the apple doesn’t fall far from the civically illiterate tree.
Which brings us to last week’s presidential election. Exit polls revealed that a stunning 42 percent of voters said Mr. Obama’s response to Superstorm Sandy was “important” when making their decisions about whom to vote for in the election.
That’s about what you’d expect from a civically illiterate electorate.