Friday, June 24, 2011

Americans' Disgraceful Lack of Civics and Historical Knowledge

A few days back a friend of mine forwarded this civics/history test that was conducted by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute. The original test was administered to 2,508 Americans in 2008. The results were dismal. The overall average test score was a pathetic 49% correct. College Educators (professors & teachers and NOT just those with college degrees) only scored marginally better at 55%; still a failing grade. Indeed, over 70% of participants failed. Only 3.4% of participants received an “A” or “B” grade on the exam. I guess our education system really does need to grade on a curve to keep too many folks from appearing to be ignorant.

What really irked me, but actually did not surprise me greatly, was the fact that amongst those taking the exam were a statistically relevant portion of the population that had held or were holding elected office. Their average score was significantly worse than that of even the average American.

Those of you faithful readers of this blog will likely recall that in the past I have repeatedly decried the current abysmal state of our civics general knowledge, let alone that of our nation’s history.
It is because of this general lack of knowledge regarding how our representative republic was set up and is supposed to work, as well as the historical context and brilliance of our founding fathers in doing so, that leads folks today to vote for candidates that cannot even seemingly spell “Constitution” let alone have an idea as to the contents therein. The ultimate result of all of this disgraceful lack of knowledge regarding how our government is supposed to function is that we end up with a President who was supposedly a constitutional scholar and yet champions unconstitutional legislation and fails to abide by the dictates of that inspired document.

It is my opinion that every person running for elected office should have to pass an in-depth test of this sort prior to being seated. The only way to hold our elected officials accountable though is for us citizens to also know how the system is supposed to work and the history of our nation, as well as having a reasonable knowledge of current events. Those that do not know their history are doomed to repeat it, or so the saying goes.

This test is comprised of 33 questions and does not require too much time to take it. My own score was 100%. Granted, I am a civics/history/current events geek, but one would hope that a majority of our fellow Americans would at least be familiar enough with the government and the country's history under which they live that they could at least PASS this test.

Take the test yourself and see if you fair better than that of your typical fellow American!

H/T: Carrie. Thanks!


John Myste said...

If you were to combine Palin and Bushes scores, they still probably could not pass this test. Obama would undoubtedly get close to 100%, as did I. However, you beat me, this time. A game of chess is probably in order.

The Heathen Republican said...

Missed four for an 88%. After reading some of those questions, I'm surprised John didn't claim the test is skewed to the right... all those free market questions must've been a challenge.

John Myste said...

That is very amusing, Mr. Heathen. I almost, almost, almost pointed out that the test was obviously designed by a republican, but at the last minute, I decided to take the high road and ignore that fact. That it is a republican test is obvious, so anyone taking it that does not recognize this fact earns the possible disadvantage not recognizing the fact gives him.

If you cannot distinguish right wing leanings from left wing leanings, that is also an indication of poor education.

T. Paine said...

Mr. Myste, based on their actions and not their words, I would be doubtful if the combined score of Obama's entire adminstration would reach 100%.

H.R., it is funny but my first thoughts were along those same lines too. Then I thought that this was not the case.

It only seems to be a Republican test as they seem to be the only party that understands and appreciates the freedom and prosperity created for the most possible people via capitalism.

This used to be a concept that was somewhat less understood yet still appreciated by the Democratic party, but alas that knowledge seems to have all but vanished. (Hence the seeming skewing of the test to the right merely because questions on capitalism were contained therein.) :)

S.W. Anderson said...

"You answered 32 out of 33 correctly — 96.97 %"

The one I got wrong was:
"Question: If taxes equal government spending, then:
"Your Answer: government debt is zero
"Correct Answer: tax per person equals government spending per person on average"

Sorry, but the supposedly correct answer is midway between a gross assumption and outright fallacy.

It's disappointing that so many did so poorly on the test. Only about half of both citizens and people who had held office of some sort understand the concept of a progressive tax. Malcolm Forbes must be ecstatic.

The appalling lack of education and knowledge those results indicate helps explain the popularity in some quarters of "leaders" like George W. Bush and the appeal of the Palins, Bachmanns and Perrys that litter the political landscape.

T. Paine said...

No, Mr. Anderson, you are indeed wrong, sir.

If taxes equal government spending than the DEFICT for that tax year will in fact be zero, but that in no way means that the government DEBT is zero.

Indeed, the federal government had more revenue than expenses during some of the Clinton years, but our federal debt never ever approached zero, unfortunately. You are indeed wrong on that question accordingly.

I would agree with your estimation of the poor quality of education regarding history and civics though, but like a true progressive, you diagnose the problem and then state the wrong solution.

I would submit to you that it is "constitutional scholars" like Obama that get elected to office when folks don't know their rear-ends from a hole in the ground. It is the promise of entitlements packaged up pretty as "hope and change" that dazzles these ignorant voters. Indeed Obama even champions un-constitutional legislation despite his supposed expertise on the law of the land.

I suppose I should not expect his minions to be held to a higher standard than he is though.

S.W. Anderson said...

I found all the answers to that question lacking and so tried to pick the one that struck me as the last wrong.

Our country indeed has longterm debt that's separate from the current-budget deficit.

However,if you consider the question to be abstract, about a generic country or new country atarted with a clean slate, the answer I chose would be correct.

I stand by what I said about the test's choice of a right answer.

T. Paine said...

Anderson, you made assumptions then that were not warranted or the underlying conditions even implied.

It does not matter which country we are talking about, or whether it was a generic or hypothetical nation.

Nowhere in the question did it state that the country was just beginning or starting with a clean slate.

Regardless, all of those assumptions are irrelevant anyway. Debt and deficit are not the same thing.

When tax revenues per citizen equal government expenditures per citizen, a nation's deficit for that year will be zero.

If one has years where more is spent than taken in, the deficit will reflect that AND the nation's debt will be positive.

It doesn't matter if the nation is America, Greece, or Narnia. It is a matter of economic definitions.

You can, of course, stand by your incorrect answer as you wish, but that doesn't make you right still.

Further, if one were to assume that all learned progressives shared your same stubborness in refusing to admit mistakes, I can now understand how we exacerbated our economic woes under this current administration.

S.W. Anderson said...

Paine, you never cease to amaze.

". . . tax per person equals government spending per person on average"

OK, let's say you have a country just starting out. Remember, the question didn't specify what country or when it was asking about. This new country has exactly two citizens. One makes $1 million a year and pays $50,000 in income tax. The other citizen makes nothing and pays no tax. Since the one tax-paying citizen is completely self-sufficient, the government spends only $5,000 the first year, on setting up a government headquarters and advertising abroad, trying to get people to emigrate.

Do you seriously believe any of that $5,000, much less $2,500 of it, is spent on the pauper who pays no taxes, or that the pauper benefits from the spending?

T. Paine said...

Mr. Anderson, and you think that I am amazing....

First off your hypothetical is absurd and still irrelevant to the definition of the economic terms used in the question.

It does not matter that you see injustice in the sparse spending on the pauper in your two person country. I am not discussing the morality of it. I was discussing the definition of the terms used in the question - the question that you got wrong and still are looking for a progressive justification of why you are morally right in your answer. It is not a question of morality. It is a question of arithmetic.

You cannot ignore the term deficit and debt simply because you don't think that the debt of a nation is always zero just because revenues equal expenditures some years.

Good God! No wonder the Republicans cannot make the Democrats in congress understand the necessity of spending cuts. Evidently they too are too stubborn as to understand the definitions and ramifications of economics.