Where Is Our Civic Literacy?

Feb 11, 2015

Credit kereifsnyder / flickr Creative Commons


How well are Americans doing with civic literacy?

The results of the 2010 National Assessment of Education Progress, known as the “Nation’s Report Card,” demonstrate that most K-12 students are learning little about civics and history. Only 22 percent of fourth-grade students, 18 percent of eighth-graders, and 13 percent of high school seniors demonstrated proficiency in American history.

In a 2000 survey giving high school-level questions on American history to seniors at 55 leading colleges and universities, including Harvard, Princeton and Brown, the average score was a dismal 53 percent.

I gave this same examination recently to a class of 19 American government students at Wichita State. Four of them knew that James Madison is the “father“ of our Constitution and only seven knew that the phrase “Government of the people, by the people, for the people” is from Lincoln’s Gettysburg address. Five students did not know that our Constitution established the division of powers between the states and the federal government. All of the students knew of rapper Snoop Dogg, and 17 of the 19 were familiar with cartoon characters Beavis and Butthead. The average score for the class on the whole test was 47.7 percent.

A 2008 survey on civic literacy by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute found that those with a college degree score only 13 points higher than those with a high school diploma, and elected officials scored even lower than the general public.

Isn’t it time for a return to a staple of solid civics courses for K-12 students, which has lost its importance in the “No Child Left Behind” world of constant testing?