As Eduflack has written before, I am the son of an historian. My father is actually an expert on the American presidency (the office itself, and the evolution of presidential leadership over the past two centuries in particular) and is the author of countless books and articles on the subject. Add to that four years at Mr. Jefferson’s University, and it would be hard for me not to be fascinated with history, particularly American history. That’s why I am always fascinated with the latest numbers on how little the American people know about our country. We struggle to name the VP. We can’t recall how many members are on the U.S. Supreme Court. We struggle to ID our own elected officials. And forget it if we’re asked to recall the facts, figures, and dates for the truly significant moments in our nation’s history. (And we only have 200-plus years of it, imagine if we were Chinese, Greek, or British.)
So I was, of course, taken by a survey shared with me today from the American Revolution Center. Eduflack was shocked — shocked, I tell you — to learn that 83 percent of adults failed a basic test on the American Revolution (and this is after 89 percent of those surveyed believed they could pass such an exam with no trouble). Among some of the highlights from ARC’s survey:
* 90 percent of Americans think it is important for U.S. citizens to know the history and principles of the American Revolution
* Half of those surveyed believe we have a direct democracy, despite having pledged to “the republic for which it stands” every morning as a school kid
* More than half of those surveyed attribute a famous quote from Karl Marx’s “The Communist Manifesto” to George Washington, Thomas Paine, or Barack Obama
* No surprise, but more people can ID Michael Jackson as the singer of “Beat It” than know the Bill of Rights is part of the Constitution
* Half of those surveyed believe the Civil War, Emancipation Proclamation, or War of 1812 occurred before the American Revolution
* One-third of Americans do not know the right to a jury trial is covered in the U.S. Constitution, while 40 percent think a right to vote is covered (when it is not)
For more of these interesting factoids, give a gander over at the report on ARC’s website — <a href="http://www.AmericanRevolutionCenter.org.
Every congressional session, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (TN) and U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd (WV) offer legislation to refocus on the instruction of American history (particularly around our nation’s founding). And Eduflack’s former boss, the esteemed Senator Byrd, still carries around a copy of the Constitution in his breast pocket, as a reminder of the very reasons why he has committed his life to our nation’s government. Legislation focusing on the importance of history of civics in a K-12 classroom may not be sexy, but can we really question whether it is seriously needed? While we may not be developing common core standards on U.S. history, shouldn’t every high school graduate know the basics about their country, its history, their rights, and other such noble pursuits?
Each year, thousands upon thousands of immigrants study up on U.S. history in order to pass our citizenship test. They learn more about the nation they hope will soon adopt them than those who are born and raised in the land of the free and the home of the brave. It’s a shame we don’t all have to pass a citizenship test to be an adult citizen. Just as we register with Selective Service, if you want a driver’s license or a student loan or the right to vote, why not require passage of a basic skills test. I’m just sayin’ ….