I don’t remember what exactly started the conversation. But during out morning water cooler session, the topic of voting came up and someone made a comment on immigrants having to pass a citizenship test before voting and then someone else suggested that would be a good idea for native born Americans as well.
The youngest member of our group confidently stated that he had learned all of that in high school. “Oh, yeah?” I fired off at him. “What form of government do we have in the United States? How many branches of government are there? How many people are in Congress? What are the first 10 amendments to the Constitution called?”
I share this story, not to bust on the poor kid (OK, maybe just a little.) but to point out how truly awful the civics education of most Americans is. According to the Woodrow Wilson National Foundation, a majority of Americans 49 states would fail the citizenship test. All except for Vermont where 53% passed (and yet these same people keep returning Bernie Sanders to the Senate.) Only a third of Georgians passed it. South Carolina was one point better at 34%. Louisiana was the lowest at 27%.
And it wasn’t even a hard test! It’s 20 questions. Multiple choice. Questions like “Who was president during WWI?” and “What countries did we fight in WWII?” Fewer than 1/3 could name 3 of the original states. Four out of ten thought Benjamin Franklin invented the light bulb.
If you want to take it yourself, here’s the link: https://woodrow.org/americanhistory/
This is completely horrifying, yet not at all surprising. I remember that as a student at the University of Georgia, we were all forced to take a mandatory US Government class. It was the easiest class I took in 4 years of college. But I had 2 advantages over my fellow students:
- I actually paid attention during 8th grade civics class.
- I grew up watching Schoolhouse Rock.
This class taught all of the basic civics facts one would expect to learn before being handed a high school diploma and set out into the world. How many branches of government, what they are, what they consist of. How a bill becomes a law (I’m just a bill.. Yes, I’m only a bill……) Why the Constitution was written and how it is amended.
Like I said, I learned most of that watching Saturday morning cartoons.
But apparently my classmates spent their Saturdays outside playing sports. The lack of knowledge was astounding. The teacher told us he was going to ask on our next test how many people are there in Congress. (Answer: 535. 100 in the Senate – 2 for each state. 435 in the House of Representatives.) He reminded us the day before the test. It was a multiple choice test.
Half the class missed it.
He also gave us a bonus question: name 2 people that are currently running for president. This was 1988 and like most open election years, it seemed that everybody and his brother was running for president. I wracked my brain trying to think of 2 men that I knew for certain had actually declared their candidacy and came up with George HW Bush and Gary Hart. On the way back to the dorm, one of my fellow classmates asked me “Is Reagan running again?”
Guess he was sleeping when we went over the Twenty-Second Amendment.
We did have one kid in the class that didn’t graduate from Georgia public schools. He was an immigrant from Cuba. He told us that we should all be ashamed of ourselves for not knowing these things already. He was absolutely right.
Have you ever wondered HOW so many Americans could support insane ideas like Socialism? How the most crooked and corrupt politicians keep getting re-elected? How our national debt has grown to $22 Trillion? And why we allow this to continue? Most Americans can’t even name one Supreme Court Justice. In any given year,30-40% of people can’t name the Vice President. Far fewer can name their Senators and Representative, much less their state and local officials.
When asked at the close of the Constitutional convention whether the U.S. had a Republic or a monarchy, Benjamin Franklin reportedly replied “A Republic, if you can keep it.” That becomes increasingly difficult as fewer Americans even know the difference.