As Newsweek so succinctly put it, “They’re the sort of scores that drive high-school teachers to drink.” A Newsweek experiment that asked 1,000 U.S. citizens to take the official American citizenship test returned abysmal results: nearly 30% of respondents couldn’t name the vice president (Joe Biden); 44% were unable to define the Bill of Rights (the first 10 amendments of the U.S. constitution); and 73% didn’t know why we fought the Cold War (to get warm!). Americans’ civic knowledge has historically never been anything to brag about—annual civic knowledge results have only shifted up or down by 1% since WWII—but there are a variety of changing reasons why. Political scientists argue the U.S. system is just too complex; Economists point out we have a lot of very poor people without access good education; Sociologists reference a large immigrant population who isn’t fluent in English; and others argue, still, that the U.S. has more market-driven programming and less public broadcasting (read: KPCC!) devoting attention to public affairs and news. Are these just excuses?
Andrew Romano, senior writer, Newsweek