Monday, March 01, 2010

Do You Know Basic Civics?

I first heard about this story on the Rush Limbaugh show today. I was simply appalled. A conservative non-profit group recently released The Shaping of the American Mind: The Diverging Influences of the College Degree & Civic Learning on American Beliefs. This report sought,"... to measure for the first time the impact that earning a bachelor’s degree and acquiring additional knowledge of America’s history and institutions exerts on public opinion." The results were not good. The group, Intercollegiate Studies Institute, administered a basic civics test to some 14,000 college students (half were freshmen, half were seniors). They also got a number of elected officials to take the test.


If you want to take the test yourself, you can at this site. I took the test and scored an 83%. According to ISI, 71% of Americans failed the test. The average score was 54.2%. I thought many of the questions were very basic. The very first question is a great example (this is copied from the site, so the bullets don't work):

1) Which of the following are the inalienable rights referred to in the Declaration of Independence?


I am embarrassed that this question could cause anyone trouble. However, 30% of the elected officials who took this quiz got the answer wrong. Here's another one:

3) What are the three branches of government?

51% of Americans who took the quiz missed this problem as well. Some of the other stats are equally embarrassing. To be fair, there are a few questions on the test that are a little more difficult, such as:

14) The Puritans:


(The answer is B, and this is one of the questions I missed)

The bulk of the questions should really be easy to anyone who has graduated junior high. The problem is that we have gotten away from teaching basic civics to our students. There are any number of explanations for this, but none of them are acceptable. If our children don't understand how the government works, or even their basic rights, how can we expect them to govern themselves and to carry freedom forward to the next generation? Being a citizen of the world means nothing if you don't understand your own country and heritage.


This represents a pretty big problem for our future. If our children don't know the rules the government plays by, how do they know when the government has overstepped its boundaries? How do they recognize tyranny, even a "benevolent" one?

7 comments:

the anonymous guy said...

Good thing this wasn't a science test, eh?

The shocking conclusions were actually clear before the survey came out: people with more education come to distrust conservative dogmas; people with more education in general (including music majors and botany majors) learn modestly more about American history and government while they're in college.

(The particular survey, however, is also greatly interested in whether or not your local state-funded community college is fulfilling its mission to teach students that the Bible is the Word of God.)

The group who funded this "study" has been *massively* funding anti-educational propaganda on campus for a long time. (Intercollegiate Studies Institute owns the Collegiate Network--a large set of campus papers very quietly funded by right-wing/corporate money.)

By the way, Andy, you wrote There are any number of explanations for this, but none of them are acceptable. It should read "none of them *is* acceptable."

It's so weird that a college-guy like me could ace that civics quiz *and* learn science and grammar, too. And even believe that the Bible is the Word of God.

I guess its just my college education that makes me suspicious of right- or left- wing foundations that make it their mission to shut down free inquiry on campus.

Andy D said...

I would hate for anyone to misinterpret your comment. Did you note that in the study, ISI stated, "Neither the survey nor this report presumes “right” or “wrong” answers to the thirty-nine opinion propositions presented to the respondents. However, given the civic purpose of higher education, ISI thought it beneficial to share with the American people, who fund and attend our nation’s colleges, the intriguing findings of this report." This included the opinion question on whether or not the Bible is the word of God.

I am glad you aced the civics exam. But from your comment, should I assume you don't care that the people interviewed in this report couldn't??

the anonymous guy said...

I'm totally in favor of strong civic knowledge. I'm glad that college graduates know more civics (according to the tests given by this conservative group) than non-college-grads.

What I'm leery of is a movement that has sought to destroy free inquiry on campus. They spin the results from their own custom-crafted quiz to cast aspersions on higher education and to argue for less serious inquiry and questioning. I've seen these people on campus--they enthusiastically shut down voices they disagree with. That's not the kind of higher education I believe in, whether it teaches about government or not.

pack04 said...

Andy my wife got 30 correct and I missed 5 two of which I did because I was going to fast and did not read the question.

Anonymous guy I find it funny the depth and extremes you go to find the hidden agendas and the conspiracy you present. I find it interesting that you lay claims of mass killings supporting when somebody points out a hidden agenda on a cause you beleive in.

pack04 said...

"they enthusiastically shut down voices they disagree with"

That sounds like a good way to describe the global warming debate on this blog.

Anonymous guy you are against shutting down voices you disagree with but yet do the same. Sounds a little hypocritical to me. Even in this post you are for shutting down voices you disagree with because those voices shut down voices they disagree with.

the anonymous guy said...

Pack, you may have misunderstood what I'm talking about.

By definition, *debate* (what is happening on this blog) is not at the same time *shutting down* debate.

If you want to see what shutting down debate looks like, check out what the Bush administration did to its own scientists (and to the American people), in this case concerning public health dangers of climate change. This reports shows exactly what got censored.

pack04 said...

Sorry you are correct I typed the wrong word into my previous comment. Andy please allow me to amend a previous statement.

My second sentence should read: That sounds like a good way to describe the global warming comments on this blog.

Plus how very typical...look what Mr. Bush did. I must say you must really hate yourself because you are doing the same thing the Bush administration does. Shut down debate (by shut down I mean devolving into name calling) because you disagree with another opinion. Of course you could also be just as bad as him because you pass on half information. He leaves out information and it is the worst thing ever, scientist leave out information and it is okay because other agree on the stuff that was not left out.