I just finished taking this test of United States government civics and history. I correctly answered 32 out of 33 questions, having guessed at a couple of them. I believe that most of these questions are fairly worded and that they concern important topics of which American voters should be familiar. I assume that I scored highly because I work as a lawyer, because I read quite a bit, and I actually lived through some of the events mentioned in the questions. I would think that Americans who choose to vote should be able to answer more of these questions correctly than incorrectly. In fact, it is my opinion that people who do terribly (those who answer more incorrectly than correctly) should voluntarily refrain from voting in national elections because they lack a basic foundation of knowledge on which to base political decision-making. Now consider this:
More than 2,500 randomly selected Americans took ISI’s basic 33 question test on civic literacy and 71% of them received an average score of 49% or an “F.” The quiz reveals that over twice as many people know Paula Abdul was a judge on American Idol than know that the phrase “government of the people, by the people, for the people” comes from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.
As discussed by the linked article, even significant numbers of elected officials who took this test displayed ignorance regarding basic topics. This is highly discouraging, of course (and see here).
It is difficult to argue that the People of this country should self-govern when so many of them are so ignorant of the basic information they need in order to cast meaningful votes. It’s time to break the silence and to admit to each other that in order to self-govern, the citizens will need to be much more selective in how they spend their free time. They apparently need to be much more selective in what they view on TV and what they read (25% of Americans did not read any books last year). Better education is the answer, but how can we educate the many millions of people who have already graduated from school? How can we pry them, at least once in a while, from the addictive fare offered by the Entertainment Industries?
I would love to make all candidates currently running for President take a comparable test. I would suspect that at least several of them would fail even this simple multiple choice test. Actually, I believe that Presidential candidates should be required to take a much more difficult and detailed test under supervised conditions to demonstrate whether they are well-versed in American politics and history. Their scores should then be published (along with the questions and their answers) for voters to consider.
These test results indicate that these are dangerous times for our country. It’s frustrations like these that lead me to advocate dramatic measures, such as passing a Constitutional Amendment to get money out of politics. Such an amendment would be a start, and only then might we have meaningful conversations about what needs to be done to fix the country. We cannot have such conversations while we have ignorant voters and corrupted politicians. If we can’t depend on the People of this country and if we can depend on our elected officials, on whom can we depend?
Maybe, after passing a constitutional amendment to get money out of politics, we could have some chance to break up big banks and big media, we maybe then we could start weaning ourselves off of fossil fuels and we could start investing in better quality civics and history education for our children.
Or maybe my proposed first step is a pipe dream. Based on many conversations I’ve been having with people I respect, I’m increasingly worried that we don’t have what it takes to pull out of our current nose dive.