Who was president during the Great Depression and World War II?
It’s shocking how few Americans know the answer to that question or, for that matter, the other 19 questions on the U.S. Civics Test. Most cannot correctly answer even half of the 20 questions.
The Founding Fathers would – rightly – be appalled at the civics illiteracy rampant in America. They knew all too well why a sound knowledge of civics is vital for full citizen participation in the work-in-progress called Democracy.
The U.S. Civics Test is given to all people before they are allowed to become U.S. citizens. Ninety-seven percent of them pass the test the first time. However, about half of Americans cannot pass the test. Many Americans do not know what the Civil War was all about or even when it took place. Some think as soon as the U.S. House passes a law, that law goes into effect, forgetting or not knowing that in most cases both the House and Senate have to approve a law. Many people cannot name the vice president of the United States. Others cannot name the three branches of government.
What’s sad is it’s often our schools and teachers who unfairly take the rap for this appalling civics illiteracy. These civics-related topics have all been taught in schools. The problem is far too many people have forgotten or even eagerly dismissed what they ought to have learned to last them a lifetime. Many think such knowledge is old, dry textbook stuff and so they invoke a kind of willful amnesia.
This kind of civic illiteracy is nothing short of a national disgrace. Civics literacy is important for the following reasons:
It promotes active citizenship.
It instills pride in country.
It helps us understand why we are Americans and why that is so important.
It shows us the forces that formed us and which make us unique.
It helps us understand the foundations of our ideals.
It gives us concepts of why Democracy does (or sometimes does not) function well.
It lends a context for our historical and cultural identities.
It points the way to where we have been and where we are headed.
It helps make us informed voters.
The Joseph and Rose Kennedy family used to love to discuss current events and civics around their dinner table. Is it any wonder so many of the Kennedys became so active in public service. What a pity more families nowadays don’t discuss the foundations of Democracy and the workings of the world.
There is a good basic website that addresses the issues surrounding civic literacy and illiteracy, and what we can do to change the situation. It’s www.citizenshipfirst.us. On that site the U.S. Civics Test is available. By all means, put our civics knowledge to the test.
Here are a few of the questions, all of them multiple-choice ones:
Name one problem that led to the Civil War? The House of Representatives has how many members? What do we call the first 10 amendments to the Constitution? After the vice president, who is next in line of succession for the presidency?
It’s time we all brush up on our knowledge of civics.