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Archive for Friday, November 21, 2008

Civic illiteracy is alarming

November 21, 2008

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While Congress spends — and plans to spend — like the proverbial drunken sailor to “bail out” various industries for practices that are largely their fault and the fault of those in Congress who were supposed to provide oversight, another deficit looms which is at least as troubling as the economic one.

For the third straight year, the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI) has found that a large number of Americans cannot pass a basic 33-question civic literacy test on their country’s history and institutions. The multiple-choice questions ask about the inalienable rights mentioned in the Declaration of Independence (life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness), the name of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1933 series of government programs (The New Deal) and the three branches of government (executive, legislative, judicial). No, I didn’t peek at the answers. I received a good education.

The random sample of 2,508 American adults, ranging from those without high school diplomas, to people with advanced degrees, revealed a minimal difference in civic literacy between the uneducated and the highly educated. Fifty-six percent of those surveyed could identify Paula Abdul as one of the judges on “American Idol,” but only 21 percent were able to recognize a phrase from Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. I had to memorize that speech in high school. What are they memorizing now?

Not much of any use, it appears. Ignorance of America’s history and heritage is a setup for politicians and others who want to manipulate us into a way of thinking that allows them to make decisions that are unconstitutional and unwise. More than repeating phrases and figures, knowledge of the past prepares us for a future based on unchanging principles. That’s why knowledge matters and ignorance endangers our government and threatens our way of life even more than terrorism.

Civic illiteracy in the United States crosses all educational lines, including the vaunted Harvard where, according to the ISI survey, seniors scored 69.56 on the test, or a D-plus. And they were the best. The survey found that up to three-fourths of Americans believe teaching America’s heritage is fundamental to a good education and to producing good citizens. So why is it not being done?

Part of it, I think, has to do with the continued embarrassment by the liberal education establishment over America and what it means to be an American. From their guilt about prosperity and our freedoms, to their opposition to “dead white males,” college professors, especially since the ’60s, have favored the trendy and quaint over the established and proven.

Remarkably, a college degree does not increase civic knowledge. According to the report, “The average score among those who ended their formal education with a bachelor’s degree is 57 percent, or an ‘F’. That is only 13 percentage points higher than the average score among those who ended their formal education with a high school diploma. Only 24 percent know that the First Amendment prohibits establishing an official religion for the United States.” That’s pretty basic information, isn’t it? One might expect the Bill of Rights to be part of any class on government, even as early as elementary school.

Other findings: “Elected officials score lower than the general public,” which tells us all we need to know about Washington. “Television — including TV news — Dumbs America Down,” says ISI. In the midst of important hearings in Washington on the economy and a possible bailout for the big three automakers, one cable channel carried a story about a 44-year-old stripper who is suing for age discrimination.

ISI calls on everyone involved in education, including parents, to re-evaluate curricula and standards of accountability and to emphasize to students the fundamentals about our country. It notes Thomas Jefferson’s admonition: “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free ... it expects what never was and never will be.”

Read the report at www.isi.org and weep. And then demand of yourself and others that something be done to fix the intellectual deficit.

— Cal Thomas is a columnist for Tribune Media Services.

Comments

frazzled 5 years, 9 months ago

I did indeed look at the Intercollegiate Studies Institute website (www.isi.org). It is clearly a right-wing organization, and their "report" is telling themselves what they want to hear. I am not surprised that Cal Thomas is citing it instead of something more objective, nor am I surprised at his knee-jerk reaction to blame the liberal educational establishment.As usual, his column itself is an excellent example of the "intellectual deficit".

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jaywalker 5 years, 9 months ago

"Part of it, I think, has to do with the continued embarrassment by the liberal education establishment over America and what it means to be an American"That's just rabble-rousing for rabble-rousing's sake. I'm so sick and tired of the far poles having the loudest voices, from Thomas to Coulter to Hannity to Rubin to Olberman to ..... the list goes on. Nauseating. People being ignorant, whether it's 'civic illiteracy' or just plain illiteracy, has little if nothing to do with political ideology and everything to do with close mindedness and a refusal to 'listen' to opposing views. And a catastrophic dearth in reading as a pasttime. There was a game show on called 'Street Smarts', don't know if it still is around. The ignorance over simple trivia displayed on that show was beyond belief, quite often by current college students.I received a video the other day that explains there are more honors students in India right now than there are citizens in the U.S. We isn't gettin' any brainier, folks. Disturbing.

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KSManimal 5 years, 9 months ago

A reasonably good article, with good intent, considering the source.But, before you blame the "liberals", Cal, you might do a little homework yourself to see which political party seeks to stregthen our educational institutions; and which political party (or at least YOUR faction of it) seeks to destroy public education through scapegoating, vouchers, budget cuts, and the impossible demands of NCLB.

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Confrontation 5 years, 9 months ago

Let's hope it's the racist white boys like you, Tom, who get sent to the camps.

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roger_o_thornhill 5 years, 9 months ago

I took that test and only got 81.8% but I have to say that the questions started falling apart at about #25. I'll admit that I missed as many before 25 as after (three in each case), so it isn't that I just got the ones #25 and after wrong, but some of them seem to have an ideological slant that seems to dictate the answer (i.e. if you don't believe what the questioner wants you to believe, you get the question wrong.)As an example, would someone please explain how Govt. can lower taxes and increase spending. This seems impossible. If I were to increase my spending while my income decreses, I would soon find myself in trouble, right?

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roger_o_thornhill 5 years, 9 months ago

So defecits are ok but taxes are evil? Is that like my plan to die before I pay off my student loans? Let some other generation deal with it? What's good for the goose...?

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jaywalker 5 years, 9 months ago

It doesn't, Tom. Beo just never has anything else to say. And confrontation is an idiot altogether.

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Thinking_Out_Loud 5 years, 9 months ago

Sadly, I received a score of only 31 of 33 questions. From which I infer I should read more civics and history texts. There's no good excuse for any American citizen not to ace this quiz. I ought to sue the Shawnee Mission School District for malpractice.

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beatrice 5 years, 9 months ago

It is high time to replace a dim bulb. We are in the eighth and final year under the Bush administration. For a third year in a row there has been a decline in civic literacy. Coincidence? Thomas' blaming of liberals rather than our "C" student in chief and his failed "no child left behind" policy would be laughable if it weren't so sad. Republicans attempt to label those with intelligence and education as "elitists," they strive to put people in office with little education because they are "one of us," and then they act surprised with the drop in knowledge of our nation. Please. A dumb nation is a gullible and cooperative nation, which is what they strive to achieve.Thank goddness we said "enough is enough" and voted for a bright Democrat this time around, which should help end this intellectual slide and can again encourage intelligence and excellence in education.

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Kryptenx 5 years, 9 months ago

LJW is going to be one of the next newspapers to lose all its paying readers and move to online only. If I had to pay for this sh*t, I'd be pissed.

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Satirical 5 years, 9 months ago

I got 30/33. DOH!I need to know more about the common teaching of certain philosophers. The religions beliefs of the Puritans (did they really stress the sinfulness of all humanity?)I disagree with the answer given to question #33, "tax per person equals government spending per person." It didn't say "average" so it is not correct. My answer "government debt is zero" would be correct assuming there was no previous debt.

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webmocker 5 years, 9 months ago

From the article:"Remarkably, a college degree does not increase civic knowledge. According to the report, “The average score among those who ended their formal education with a bachelor’s degree is 57 percent, or an ‘F’. That is only 13 percentage points higher than the average score among those who ended their formal education with a high school diploma."Math check! A 30% bump in the average score (from 44% to 57%) seems like an increase to me.

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Thinking_Out_Loud 5 years, 9 months ago

Not the sitting President's fault, beatrice. I went to High School when Ford & Carter were President, and college when Carter and Reagan were President. And I failed to ace this quiz. So there's more to it than the sitting President being to blame.

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KSManimal 5 years, 9 months ago

Good lord! I stopped halfway through that damn "test" - so many of the questions are opinion questions about economics/morality....and if you don't give a right-wing answer you get it wrong.Cal, what part of "thou shalt not bear false witness" don't you understand? Oh, yeah. I forgot. The religious right is neither.

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Confrontation 5 years, 9 months ago

jaywalker (Anonymous) says… "It doesn't, Tom. Beo just never has anything else to say. And confrontation is an idiot altogether."It's always nice when you try to lump me into the same category as you and your mother, jaywalker. Tom is racist. Look as his past comments, and not just the ones on this page. Of course, I doubt you're smart enough to figure out how to do that.

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beatrice 5 years, 9 months ago

TOL: of course it is much more than Bush's fault, but that idea of promoting politicians who are proud to be "C" students or are "one of us" is a disturbing trend in recent years among Republicans, which potentially has a trickle-down dumbness effect. It was his "no child" policy as well. At least that is my take, and I'm sticking to it. I took the test and got 31 of 33, which is 93.94%. Round that up to 94 for good measure, and we are talking a solid A. I'm pleased with that.

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BuffyloGal 5 years, 9 months ago

Clearly what is needed is a return of Schoolhouse Rock. Who else can sing the Preamble to the Constitution?

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Satirical 5 years, 9 months ago

KSManimal…“I stopped halfway through that damn “test” - so many of the questions are opinion questions about economics/morality….and if you don't give a right-wing answer you get it wrong.”i.e. I got so many wrong I need to justify my incompetence : )I agree that some of the question (and answers) where worded poorly but I don’t think any of them call for an opinion. Maybe you could provide an example, as I did.

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Thinking_Out_Loud 5 years, 9 months ago

beatrice wrote "I...got 31 of 33, which is 93.94%. Round that up to 94 for good measure, and we are talking a solid A. I'm pleased with that."And that's just the problem. I got the same score, and am disgusted with myself. As long as our citizenry is willing to say "good enough," I wonder what hope we can hold on to.

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supertrampofkansas 5 years, 9 months ago

Hmm,I only got a 70%. Guess I need to learn more about financial matters concerning the government. I also did well up to 25 but really floundered from there. I also missed question 33 but I did waver on whether I should choose the goverment debt equal 0 because it did not include previous debt as part of the equation. I just didn't agree with any of the others. I agree with satirical that the right choice should have included average because it conveys the idea that what you are taxed is what the government spends on you which can't be true.

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Satirical 5 years, 9 months ago

I think the reason why many people had trouble after #25 is because those questions focus more on economics/business, and if you don't have a background in those areas the questions might be more difficult.

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Satirical 5 years, 9 months ago

Hillary Clinton has allegedly accepted the position as Secretary of State.http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/22/us/politics/22obama.html?ref=usLOL, "change." Some of you people will believe anything. Hillarious. "Yes you did". LOL

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beatrice 5 years, 9 months ago

TOL, you are disgusting with yourself for missing two questions? Dude, lighten up. Did you really expect to be perfect? You are bound to miss one or two just based on the wording of the question, the time and place you take the exam, whether or not you had a good night's sleep, whether it is that time of the month or if your bio-rhythms are aligned with the moons of Jupiter, or whether the weather is agreeable, etc. Besides, being pleased with a result is not the same thing as saying it is "good enough." Those are two totally different reactions. "Good enough" would have been to equal Satirical's score. Mine is one higher, which proves I am much, much smarter than my conservative cohorts around here. That result pleases me. ; )

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Satirical 5 years, 9 months ago

"“Good enough” would have been to equal Satirical's score. Mine is one higher, which proves I am much, much smarter than my conservative cohorts around here. That result pleases me. ; )"I can't argue with the results from an online quiz. It's irrefutable evidence : )

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Satirical 5 years, 9 months ago

Beatrice...Just out of curiosity, which ones did you miss?

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KSManimal 5 years, 9 months ago

OK Satirical - I went back and looked. Maybe there aren't "opinion" questions in the strictest sense.....but the prompts for several questions are loaded such that if you share the writer's right-wing views on economic policy, you'll get it right. If not, you'll get it wrong. Examples: #'s 27 and 30.I finished the quiz, and scored 28 (85%). That would've been a 30 (90%) if not for irrelevant questions like Socrates, et al, and #33 #33 is downright ambiguous, and as such is an invalid question.

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Satirical 5 years, 9 months ago

KSManimal..."Examples: #'s 27 and 30."Question # 27 is an economic question about free markets vs. communism (central planning). This isn't a loaded question is it based on observation of communistic countries. However, if you don't have a background in economics (which in my opinion everyone should have) this question might be difficult.Question #30 is another question which is answered in an intro macro-economics course. It is a tight money policy (at least that is what my professor called it). I have had both conservative and liberal economics professors, and this stuff isn't a matter of opinion, it is economic theory.I am not trying to put you down, I just disagree that the question are right-wing questions or "loaded." Unless one considers the study of economics conservative. Also, I agree with you about #33

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Thinking_Out_Loud 5 years, 9 months ago

beatrice, I didn't say I was disgusting. Although there are those who would argue that such is the case. But seriously, "lighten up?" It's not as if I was getting a 93.94% on a differential equations exam--this is basic, foundational civics. Any citizen of this country ~ought~ to ace it. logicsound04 wrote "I got an 97%", which is apparently only because there wasn't a grammar component testing for knowledge of the difference between "a" and "an" and ending sentences with punctuation.

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beatrice 5 years, 9 months ago

Sati, I missed #30 and, I'm embarrased to say, I missed #4. I swear I knew the answer, but when taking the test I convinced myself it had to do with states' right to secede. In 1858 -- Doh! Didn't think that one through before answering. I could have missed #5, since I'm pretty sure the Supreme Court did indeed rule the Electoral College to be "undemocratic" -- well, at least they did in 2000. ;-) I like the idea of Cal getting people to think about these issues and to take the test, but I feel his conclusion that it is the fault of liberals is just way too simplistic. "From their guilt about prosperity and our freedoms, to their opposition to 'dead white males,' college professors, especially since the ’60s, have favored the trendy and quaint over the established and proven." Um, okay Cal, that was a flight of conservative fancy there, but how has that had a downward effect on the exam in the past three years in particular? I mean, Cal blamed hippie college professors. Aren't most of them retired by now?

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beatrice 5 years, 9 months ago

Tom, are you suggesting that Palin should be allowed to remain on her "victory tour" without comment for the next four years? Sorry, but if a governor pardons a turkey for the press, you don't do it on camera in front of where all the rest are being killed. That is just dumb and of course people are going to comment. It is a ridiculous tradition to begin with, and the governor should make it a symbolic gesture from the lawn of the governor's mansion, not at the slaughter house. She deserves ridicule for this bone-headed move just because she qualifies as a celebrity now. I wonder how Palin would do on the exam?

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person184 5 years, 9 months ago

Cal wants people to pass this test. Would it be ok if we just focused on an actualy literacy rate, employment, and paying taxes? C'mon!

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jonas_opines 5 years, 9 months ago

Something tells me that for a lot of these questions, the correct answer, even if missed, was one out of two being guessed between.

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bearded_gnome 5 years, 9 months ago

Thank goddness we said “enough is enough” and voted for a bright Democrat this time around, which should help end this intellectual slide and can againencourage intelligence and excellence in education.---beatrice.answer:www.howobamagotelected.comObama voters really aren't smarter, quite the opposite. a recent poll demonstrated what is in the video.

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SMe 5 years, 9 months ago

Can't pass a civic literacy test - big surprise!But they "feel good" about themselves.Failure of the education system.

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beatrice 5 years, 9 months ago

bearded, my statement wasn't about whether or not people who voted for Obama are smarter than those who voted for McCain -- I suspect that it would likely average out. No, I pointed out that people selected Obama, a person of exceptional intellect who is not "just like us." He is someone who has applied himself and excelled at everything he has done. We cannot afford to gleefully vote for the person who graduated at the bottom of his class or the privileged "C" student anymore. To see people favor intelligence for a change Is an encouraging sign, even if you disagree with the person selected.

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dandelion 5 years, 9 months ago

Posting on other stories are 2 right leaning posters who think Obama is already the president, and wonder why there haven't been any changes yet. Should civic literacy include knowing the constitution? And that the new president doesn't take the reins until Jan. 20? Or were they just plain old C students? "Why do I need to know this stuff?" "When will I ever use this?" "This is just busy work, I don't need to do it." "Read? I haven't read anything, since I got out of grade school." This are real comments from students I tutored. Some of them were college students. And I am using the past tense. They couldn't hack college and were asked to leave.

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Thinking_Out_Loud 5 years, 9 months ago

logicsound04 wrote: "Thanks Grammarian."--Any time. "The a/an was a typo, and I really could care less that I left the period off my sentence." --Fair enough. So why is it not acceptable for Americans to say "I really meant to answer question 6 differently, and I really could care less that the First Amendment grants freedom of expression?" (Hint: it has a bit to do with accountability and taking responsibility for our mistakes rather than responding with the equivalent of "it's not that big a deal.")"It's an online conversation board, not a standardized test. (Look at that!! proper usage of both “a” and “an”)"And creative license in using extra exclamation points to punch up your point. Well done. However, one would do well to remember that inattention to details, even on a mere conversation board, can decay one's abilities to perform well on the standardized test as well....

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Ralph Reed 5 years, 9 months ago

Let's see. I didn't do so well - only got 29/33 (87.88%). Oh well.Just a few comments. The ISI does seem to be a right-wing think tank. Now, if they (and other right-wing think tanks) decry the lack of civic literacy, why are they so much in favor of disposing of the traditional liberal arts education. This done to concentrate soley on reading and math - not that these subjects are not important? But ...Marion, I seem to remember just a few weeks ago that attempts to increase civil literacy were called voter fraud. The vast majority calling voter fraud were conservatives. The obvious extension of that is that conservatives are in favor of civic illiteracy, not liberals.To all:Go to the ISI website and read the analysis. I would love to see the numbers and do an analysis myself.How did you score?****I'm me. Who are you behind your hood of anonymity?

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Orwell 5 years, 9 months ago

Somehow the author's name wasn't shown along with the headline. Please be careful about this, as it can result in people accidentally wasting precious seconds considering the blatherings of Cal Thomas.

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