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article imageCitizenship test: Could average Joe, politicians, media pass it?

By Carol Forsloff     Apr 25, 2011 in Politics
Experts say lack of political literacy is what has created divisions in the United States as they wonder if ordinary Americans, politicians and even members of the media could pass the citizenship test given to immigrants.
Dr. Pease, a conservative and instructor at Taft College has looked at a recent study of 1000 adults made by Newsweek and worries about the political and historical ignorance of many Americans. The examples he uses from the article include 29% of Americans who couldn’t name the current Vice President and the 80% who did not know who was President during the first World War. More than half could not identify what Susan Anthony did, while nearly 25% were unaware of Martin Luther King’s accomplishments.
“How dumb Are We?” By Andrew Romano, in his Newsweek article of March 28, 2011, tells us that a survey of 1000 Americans from a cross section of age and cultural groups found that seventy-three percent of those surveyed did not know what the Cold War was all about. Results showed 38% of Americans would be unable to pass the political literacy test given immigrants.
Politicians and ordinary citizens in the United States often refer to the interest in maintaining adherence to the Constitution. Yet 65% of Americans could not name the date of the signing of the Declaration of Independence in the Newsweek survey nor discuss what happened at the Constitutional Convention. Further they did not know how long a Senator or Representative serves in office. More than 25% could not name who was in charge of the executive branch of Government.
The discussion continues regarding the lack of political literacy about the government and history of the United States by its citizens. Pease states his concern that by not knowing about these matters, people are not well grounded to make important decisions about the preservation of liberty.
While Pease’s view of politics is part of a conservative group, his observations are shared by others. The problems related to the lack of political knowledge is one that others have said makes it difficult for people to make the right choices on the issues of the day. Pease wonders as well whether or not the same test given to ordinary people in a survey ought not to be given to potential Congressmen as well.
Michelle Bachman, representative to Congress from the State of Minnesota, who is considering a run for the Presidency and is said would fare well in Iowa, has been cited numerous times as one of those politicians whose errors of knowledge of political history have been numerous. But her lack of knowledge is not the target of the Pease report. His is a general statement about politicians and people in general and that those who are involved as either voters or running the government should know US history and the basics of the Constitution.
Andrew Breitbart gives his opinion of knowing history and politics and whether or not these are essentially important with respect to politicians. In looking at the gaffes of Republican candidates, he maintains, “I’m curious why incorrectly stating a factoid about American history is now some sort of sin. Haven’t we been told that the tea party movement is absurd for being interested in the founding of America? I’d think Matthews would applaud Bachmann for focusing on other things to the point where that gaffe was possible in the first place. I’m more impressed that Bachmann knows why the first shots of the Revolutionary War were fired more than I’d be if she could regurgitate small facts that would be valuable at a trivia night.”
The criticism, however, from those examining politics, is that the “gaffes” are frequent, even among the liberals, including Chris Matthews, who has been criticized for his own lacking in historical facts when he questions conservatives. As an example, Matthews has been criticized for his remarks in an interview of Kevin James, a conservative radio talk show host, that the attack on the USS Cole happened under Bush in 2000
Pease maintains the lack of knowledge of the Constitution by ordinary people is a serious thing, but he also says it is particularly serious when that lack of knowledge is displayed by those in government. Others say the problem occurs in the media. In any case, Newsweek stands on its summation that Americans don’t know the facts regarding what they argue. James Fishkin, a Stanford University scholar of deliberate democracy and communication, according to the Newsweek article, has found is that “while people start out with deep value disagreements over, say, government spending, they tend to agree on rational policy responses once they learn the ins and outs of the budget.”
“The problem is ignorance, not stupidity,”
Yale political scientist Jacob Hacker, coauthor of Winner-Take-All Politics is quoted with this conclusion, “We suffer from a lack of information rather than a lack of ability.” Whether that’s a treatable affliction or a terminal illness remains to be seen. But now’s the time to start searching for a cure.
More about knowledge of history, Citizenship test, politicians and the media, Michelle Bachman, knowledge of Constitution
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