Civic Literacy in the USA

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The Intercollegiate Studies Association (ISI), a conservative organization, has released the findings of their annual survey on civic literacy in the United States and the results are not encouraging. Here are some of the major findings:

If there is any presidential speech that has captured a place in popular culture, it is the Gettysburg Address, seemingly recited by school children for decades. The truth is, however, Lincoln’s most memorable words are now remembered by very few.

Of the 2,508 Americans taking ISI’s civic literacy test, 71% fail. Nationwide, the average score on the test is only 49%. The vast majority cannot recognize the language of Lincoln’s famous speech.

The test contains 33 questions designed to measure knowledge of America’s founding principles, political history, international relations, and market economy.

While the questions vary in difficulty, most test basic knowledge. Six are borrowed from U.S. government naturalization exams that test knowledge expected of all new American citizens. Nine are taken from the National Assessment of Educational Progress tests that the U.S. Department of Education uses to assess high school seniors. Three are drawn from an “American History 101” exam posted online by http://www.InfoPlease.com. Two were developed especially for this survey and the rest were drawn from ISI’s previous civic literacy tests.

The results reveal that Americans are alarmingly uninformed about our Constitution, the basic functions of our government, the key texts of our national history, and economic principles.

  • Less than half can name all three branches of the government.
  • Only 21% know that the phrase “government of the people, by the people, for the people” comes from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.
  • Although Congress has voted twice in the last eight years to approve foreign wars, only 53% know that the power to declare war belongs to Congress. Almost 40% incorrectly believe it belongs to the president.
  • Only 55% know that Congress shares authority over U.S. foreign policy with the president. Almost a quarter incorrectly believe Congress shares this power with the United Nations.
  • Only 27% know the Bill of Rights expressly prohibits establishing an official religion for the United States.
  • Less than one in five know that the phrase “a wall of separation” between church and state comes from a letter by Thomas Jefferson. Almost half incorrectly believe it can be found in the Constitution.

Take the test here.

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