Fail: A Majority of Americans Can't Pass This Basic US Citizenship Test. Can You?

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Posted: Feb 20, 2019 10:35 AM
Fail: A Majority of Americans Can't Pass This Basic US Citizenship Test.  Can You?

Source: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

It's something of a cliche to at least partially blame the sorry state of our politics and national discourse on growing public ignorance about America's founding, but cliches are overused expressions for good reason -- they're often true.  To wit, a new study showcasing Americans' grave and deepening illiteracy about basic US history and civics has been making the rounds on social media.  The results are...not encouraging:

A majority of Americans in every state except Vermont would fail a test based on the questions in the U.S. citizenship test, according to a survey by the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation...It suggests most Americans can't live up to the standards we set for people applying to be U.S. citizens — and we set those standards because we expect Americans to be informed and engaged. Only four out of 10 Americans would have passed the test, and just 27% of those under age 45...The survey was conducted Nov. 14, 2018-Jan. 3, 2019 among 41,000 adults, using 20 history-specific questions from the practice tests for people taking the citizenship exam. 

Some of the internal results are especially disheartening:


A flat-out majority of US citizens failed the test, including 68 percent of women, as well as a staggering 73 percent of Americans under the age of 45.  Majorities failed in 49 out of 50 states, with the lone exception being Vermont.  Men performed better, relatively speaking, earning "merely" a 44 percent failure rate -- while senior citizens were by far the best-informed demographic (more earned an A or B than an F; 27 to 26 percent, respectively).  In case certain partisans are tempted to start crowing about the comparative ignorance of their opponents, consider this result: "There’s virtually no difference between how self-identified liberals and conservatives scored on the test." 

As for age groups, one might suspect that because younger people aren't as far removed from history classes as older generations, they might have a leg up.  That's quite clearly not the case, based on their pathetic outcomes.  Is there any plausible counterpoint to AP's conclusion about the trajectory of our educational system?  Should we be surprised that the group of people who know the least about American government and history are also the most enthusiastic about socialism?  Perhaps these lawmakers in Indiana are onto something:

Legislation moving through the Indiana Statehouse could mean high school students would be required to a pass a standardized civics test by graduation — a bill garnering mixed reviews from stakeholders. Opponents say Indiana students already are subject to too much standardized testing, and those in favor of the bill say curriculum has veered away from providing a strong knowledge of government — which they say the test would help ensure. Indiana Senate Bill 132, authored by Indiana Sens. Dennis Kruse, R-14, John Ruckelshaus, R-30 and Eric Koch, R-44, calls for all high school students to take and pass a civics test equivalent to the one administered by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, starting with the 2020-2021 academic year. It passed the Indiana Senate on third reading Jan. 14 on a 31-17 vote and now awaits a House vote.

Setting aside the historical fact that Woodrow Wilson was a racist, authoritarian monster, here's the test from the national fellowship named after him.  Before taking this history quiz, how confident are you, on a scale of one to ten, that you won't join the 57 percent of Americans who failed?  Full disclosure: I scored a 100 percent, but there were two or three questions on which I wasn't entirely confident of my answers.  I narrowed down the options and guessed correctly on all three, so my perfect score comes with a dash of luck.  

Parting thought -- is it time to force people into both remedial history and civics courses and remedial math courses?  Good grief:


Talk about a bona fide national emergency.