Anyone wishing to become a U.S. citizen must display a grasp of civics — history and government. Applicants are given 100 questions to study. They’re asked as many as 10 questions during their oral exam, and must score at least 60 percent to pass.
Those who do pass, sad to say, are miles ahead of the average American.
A survey released last week by the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation revealed one distressing tidbit after another. The foundation’s president, Arthur Levine, said the study found the average American “woefully uninformed” about U.S. history and “incapable” of passing the citizenship test.
“It would be an error to view these findings as merely an embarrassment,” Levine said. “Knowledge of the history of our country is fundamental to maintaining a democratic society, which is imperiled today.”
And how. Yet the foundation learned that only 36 percent of Americans could pass a multiple-choice test taken from the citizenship test. That test includes such questions as “How many U.S. senators are there?”, “What are two Cabinet-level positions?” and “How old do citizens have to be to vote for President?”
Even on a multiple-choice test, only 13 percent of those surveyed knew when the Constitution was ratified. Most thought the date was 1776. Sixty percent of respondents didn’t know which countries the United States fought in World War II.
How many people sit on the U.S. Supreme Court? Only 43 percent of those surveyed by the Wilson foundation knew the answer, despite the fact the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh has dominated the news.
The poll, conducted by Lincoln Park Strategies, was a random sample of 1,000 Americans. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percent.
Some other findings:
• Fewer than one-fourth of respondents (24 percent) knew why the colonists fought the British.
• 72 percent of respondents were unsure of, or incorrectly identified, which states were part of the 13 original states.
• Six percent thought Gen. Dwight Eisenhower was a Vietnam War general; 12 percent thought he led troops in the Civil War!
• Only 24 percent could identify one thing for which Benjamin Franklin was famous.
And yet, 40 percent of respondents said U.S. History was their favorite subject in school, and most said it was an appealing subject.
Older Americans scored best on the survey, with 74 percent of those 65 and older answering at least six in 10 questions correctly. Only 19 percent of those younger than 45 managed to pass. “None of this augurs well for the future of self-government,” The Wall Street Journal lamented.
Americans, Levine said, “need to understand the past in order to make sense of a chaotic present and an inchoate future.” He’s right. Perhaps a foundation program, set to roll out next year and designed to change how history is taught and learned, will make a difference. Clearly, we can use the help.
— The Oklahoman