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Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Americans Dismally Fail Civic Knowledge Test

Elected officials score worse than citizens

A couple of weeks ago the Intercollegiate Studies Institute released a disturbing report which found that more than twice as many Americans knew facts about "American Idol" as knew facts about the Gettysburg Address.

According to CNS News,

More than 2,000 people were administered a 33-question test this Spring on American history and our political and economic institutions. Of them, 71 percent -- college and non-college educated alike – got a failing mark, ISI’s Josiah Bunting III said, presenting the study at a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., Thursday.

The CNS News article also says

Less than half of Americans can name all three branches of government. -- Only 27 percent of Americans know that the Bill of Rights prohibits the government from establishing an official religion in the U.S.-- 54 percent do not know that the Constitution gives Congress the power to declare war, not the president.

As bad as the average person did, sadly politicians scored lower than the general public.

Seventy-nine (79) percent of elected officeholders did not know that the Bill of Rights expressly forbids the government establishment of an official religion.-- A large number (43 percent) of politicians did not know what the Electoral College does.

The results of this survey go a long way in explaining not only the mind-boggling ignorance seen every day on the internet, but help explain how our nation's government has gotten so far off its Constitutional track and into a wilderness that by design it never should have gone.

Darryl DeMarzio, an assistant professor in the education department at the University of Scranton says a philosophy called "constructivism" bears much of the blame for this sad state of civic ignorance.

"That’s the idea that knowledge is not something that teachers possess and give to students or teach students," DeMarzio told CNSNews.com. "Rather, knowledge is a process in which students construct meaning for themselves. "So a historical question in a history class today is not, ‘Who were the major political participants of World War II?’ But it’s ‘What do you think of World War II?’ or ‘What might we learn from World War II?’ Think for yourself. Construct your own knowledge, your own meaning out of this."

He also blames political correctness in education which supersedes fact.

The overall score of the over 2,000 people who took the 33-question test was 49%, a failing grade in any school. While none of the demographic groups listed in the major findings achieved a passing score, some groups did notably better than others.

For instance, in the income demographic, those making $75K-$100K and $100K+ scored 55, with the score dropping with each successive income group, to a low of 40% for the <$30K group.

By party, Republicans and Independents scored highest at 52%, with Democrats the lowest at 45%.

Interestingly, by ideology, "moderates" did the best at 51%, with liberals next at 49% and conservatives at 48%.

Those with military service out-scored those who had never served 51-48%.

Scored by church attendance, the "seldom" attenders scored best at 51%, followed by "never" at 50%, with the "once a week" and "more than once a week" bringing up the rear at 48%.

Comparisons between citizens and elected officials in specific areas of knowledge also yielded interesting contrasts.

Citizens scored 83% on the Declaration of Independence while officials scored 69.78%.

For the definition of free enterprise, citizens were again the highest 41-32%.

Citizens understood the electoral college better than elected officials 66-57%.

The Scopes Monkey Trial, dealing with evolution, was understood better by citizens (67.76%) than by elected officials (59.21%).

Abortion was also understood better by citizens (50.77%) than elected officials (43.94%).

Some other areas, with citizen scores first and then elected official scores:

- First Amendment Freedoms 79.58 73.32

- FDR and the Supreme Court 25.07 19.24

- Taxes and Government Spending 27.7 22.12

- Free Markets vs. Centralized Planning 16.25 10.71

- Action Prohibited by the Bill of Rights 26.41 21.24

- Source of phrase "a wall of separation" 18.92 15.07

- Powers of the Federal Government 75.01 72.69

- Definition of a Progressive Tax 51.26 49.97

Elected officials out-scored citizens in only four of the 33 areas:

- Definition of a Public Good 27.6 28.03

- Gettysburg Address 21.06 22.95

- Fiscal Policy for Economic Stimulus 36.07 39.93

- Lincoln–Douglas Debates 19.06 23.62

But again: notice that all these areas, no matter which group scored the best, all yielded pathetic results.

Of the 2,508 tested, only 272 achieved a passing grade. Only 11% passed the test. When we see how profoundly ignorant are both our elected officials and the people who elect them, it is no wonder that our government only resembles the U.S. Constitution in a few areas.

Those who settled and founded America understood the vital importance of a good education--not just holding a degree, but an education. They established fine institutions of learning such as Harvard, Yale, Princeton and others...which have today degenerated into liberal institutions which dispense politically correct propaganda at the expense of genuine knowledge, and provide a degree in snobbery rather than equipping America's leaders to maintain a free republic.

You can take the test yourself here. Hopefully you do well. But if you do not, for the sake of our republic, educate yourself in the areas of your deficiency. In this day and age of public libraries, cheap books and the internet, there is no reason why a person cannot see to their own education, at least to a level which would make them a responsible citizen.

As for our country, we need to take this liberal preoccupation with politically correct pap and throw it in the trash can. We need to get back to basics and back to facts. We need to get back to teaching our American heritage instead of maligning it.

And as a society, we need to adjust our focus away from sports and American Idol and Britney Spears, to our freedom, our civic duty, lauding a good education over our pop-culture quotient.

Parents must take a more active interest in their children's education. They must also assume more responsibility to ensure that education is actually happening, and not blindly trust that the public education system is getting the job done. Parents need to take the time to teach their own children, talk with them about current events, tell them about how the world works, and quiz their children on a regular basis even while driving to appointments and such.

Karl Marx, the enemy of all that makes America great, once said "A people without a heritage are easily persuaded" (the implication here being that they are easily led astray). He understood better than we Americans do how important it is that we maintain a working knowledge of our heritage.

If we want to remain strong enough to protect ourselves and maintain the level of affluence we enjoy as Americans, we must take the time to understand our history, our heritage, and how our republic is supposed to work.

If we want to remain a free people, we must study our heritage and embrace it.


Anonymous said...

Actually, if you read De Marzio's quotes closely he doesn't "blame" constructivism or political correctness. Talk about superseding the facts!

Bob Ellis said...

So you think DeMarzio does NOT consider constructivism and political correctness a chief cause of this problem? Because...?

Anonymous said...

No I do not believe he thinks that they are to blame. He was being descriptive rather than prescriptive. As a philosopher of education he was asked to explain the causes of the results. The fact of the matter is that factual information, i.e., what the test was assessing, is not emphasized due to constructivism. That's DeMarzio's explanation, not his lament.

Bob Ellis said...

And you base that theory on...?

Anonymous said...

I base that theory on DeMarzio's own work, research, and teaching. I think that this story originated from a site called CNSNews.com and the author of that story did the sort of editorializing which attributes opinions to DeMarzio that are not in the quotes!

Bob Ellis said...

Anonymous 11:16, what has DeMarzio said that would indicate he does NOT blame the abysmal state of ignorance in the U.S. on constructivism or political correctness?

Anonymous said...

DeMarzio never refers in his quotes to "the abysmal state of ignorance in the U.S." nor to "political correctness", nor does he "blame" constructivism for the results of ISI's survey. He explains that constructivism could be a cause for the results precisely because constructivism is a philosophy of education that does not seek to instill historical knowledge, but seeks instead to cultivate historical thinking and reflection. He calls the latter "vague" but that is a pretty benign statement compared to what has been incorrectly attributed to him. Afterall, DeMarzio is a scholar of the French theorist Foucault and sees education as more of a therapeutic activity than as a mechanism for producing truth.

Anonymous said...

I guess my last post didn't get through. So, I'll try again. In his comments DeMarzio never said that he "blamed" constructivism for the results of ISI's study. He simply attributed to constructivism that it might be a major reason for the results of the ISI survey because constructivism as a philosophy of education does not promote the teaching and learning of factual knowledge and information (the sort of learning that the ISI literacy survey sought to measure) but instead promotes the cultivation of reflective skills and modes of critical thinking and knowledge construction. DeMarzio is quoted as calling these sorts of skills "vague" when it came to the study of history. However, this is a pretty benign charge compared to what the story attributed to DeMarzio--that is, that he is of the opinion that constructivism is to "blame." Furthermore, he never discusses "political correctness" at all. In fact, I think the term "political correctness" is something that DeMarzio would not use or throw around. It's the sort of term that is out of vogue.

Bob Ellis said...

I think I'm the one who's not getting through.

I can describe a murder in analytical terms and even describe someone standing over the body with an angry look and blood on their hands without using "judgmental" terms. If I did so, would you automatically conclude that I was not "blaming" the obvious suspect? Or would such a supposition be natural and assumed?

Why do you assume DeMarzio approves of constructivism and political correctness? Is your assumption based on a love of constructivism and political correctness and an assumption that someone in DeMarzio's position would share that love, or upon some solid evidence from DeMarzio that he approves of them?

Anonymous said...

What I meant to suggest was that I sent a prior post and that it didn't get through because it was not posted--I didn't mean to suggest that I wasn't being understood clearly or anything like that.

There is nothing in DeMarzio's quotes which attribute any "approval" or "blame" toward constructivism or political correctness. (And with regard to political correctness, DeMarzio does not refer to the idea at all.) As for guessing where DeMarzio stands, I would have to assume, based on DeMarzio's past research on Foucault (the 20th century French theorist) that he doesn't believe education should have anything to do with the reproduction of cultural knowledge. Instead, for DeMarzio education's primary goal is self-cultivation and self-transformation. The questions are more important than the answers. In this way, he is more closely affiliated with the conservatism of a Michael Oakeshott than anyone else.

Bob Ellis said...

Sorry about that. I've been having an off-and-on problem lately with comments getting stuck in the queue with the system failing to notify me.

I'll have to take your word on DeMarzio's other work and what it indicates, since I'm not familiar with either him or his work. However, the overall context of the piece, while neutral, overall seemed to indicate disapproval of such a silly approach to knowledge and education.

Just accept the "blame" statement as my judgment on the silly approach of constructivism based on DeMarzio's identification of it and political correctness.

In your focus on this fairly insignificant question of syntax, don't lose sight of the overall point: the pathetic ignorance of the average American of their own government and heritage.

That's something we desperately need to remedy, if we want to remain a free and prosperous people.

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