A Civics Test: Could You Pass?

With all the informed debate and commentary on cable TV these days (LOL), you would expect that most Americans were experts on U.S. history, government and our constitution. Apparently not.

Here’s from USA Today, “Americans put to shame by immigrants on sample civics test“:

Immigrants applying for U.S. citizenship have to pass a 10-question civics test asking basic questions about American history and government, and about 93% succeed.

But only 65% of native-born Americans could get the required six out of 10 right answers when asked the same questions in a telephone poll.

That’s the finding from the Center for the Study of the American Dream at Xavier University in Cincinnati, which commissioned the telephone survey of 1,023 native-born Americans last month. Michael Ford, the director of the center, said the results are particularly troubling in an election year featuring competing visions of a Constitution that many citizens may not understand.

“If we are civic illiterates, the chances of losing our freedom is greater than being invaded by aliens or a foreign country,” he said.

Most Americans agree. In a separate survey, 77% said all Americans ought to be able to pass the citizenship test, and 60% said it should be a requirement for high school graduation.

The survey was designed to mimic the actual test. The 10 questions were selected from the same bank of 100 questions that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) uses. Like the test, the answers are open-ended — no multiple choice — and can have multiple valid answers.

One difference: Unlike citizenship candidates, the survey respondents didn’t have time to study.

“The citizenship candidates who have decided to file their application for naturalization and begin their life in the United States, they want it really bad,” said Christopher Bentley, a USCIS spokesman. “That said, it is stuff that people would have learned in Civics 101 class.”

They are not learning it, said Gene Koo, director of iCivics, an education non-profit founded by Sandra Day O’Connor, a former Supreme Court justice. Many schools aren’t teaching civics as they used to — an unintended consequence of the justifiable emphasis on science and math, he said.

“We always assumed that those who grew up here were getting that in the school system. That stopped being true a couple decades ago, and you can see the results of that in this study,” he said.

Ford noted that 44% of those with a high school education or less passed the test, rising to 82% among college grads. “They’re still getting whupped by immigrants. … I don’t blame the educational system. We have personal responsibilities as citizens. Not just rights.”

Wonder how many of the survey respondents could have talked at length about the Kardashians? (Related civics story. Kim Kardashian has indicated that she plans to run for mayor of the city of Glendale. Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on how you look at it, Glendale does not have a mayor.)

So it goes.


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