When it comes to the U.S. Constitution, there’s good news and bad news. (And then some really good news!)
Good news first: As the political debates have sharpened over the past few years—since the rise of the Tea Partymovement—more and more Americans are interested in the Constitution. While academics and some limited political circles have always discussed the Constitution and its meaning, it’s striking to see so many ordinary Americans having these conversations—and embracing the ideals of our Founding Fathersand the Constitution itself.
Now the bad news: while interest in the Constitution is growing, few Americans actually know much about what it says. And that has serious downsides. It means that many Americans don’t really understand the rights the Constitution protects or the powers it grants.
For example, in 2009, Oklahoma tested its high school studentson their knowledge of civics—including basic ideas about the U.S. Constitution. They failed miserably. Only 28%knew that the Constitution is the supreme law of the land and just 26%identified the Bill of Rights correctly. More than two out of threedid not know that the President heads the executive branch of government and just one in tencorrectly identified the length of a Senator’s term. (This is the fruit of school years spent studying social studies, diversity, and world cultures to the neglect of American history and government.)