Oct. 6, 2021 — During a time that saw an insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, the percentage of Americans who could pass the U.S. Citizenship Test is only 42%, but that still marks an increase of six points since advocates initially conducted the survey three years ago. The Driving Force Institute (DFI) says the fact that nearly 6 in 10 Americans could not pass a citizenship test highlights the urgent need for new approaches to teaching and learning American history.
Only 17% know that the U.S. Constitution was written in 1787; a mere 27% correctly understand that Benjamin Franklin was a U.S. diplomat (36% thought he invented the lightbulb); and less than half (43%) know that Woodrow Wilson was president during World War I.
The survey uses the same questions that those who apply for citizenship must answer; improved responses were seen in a number of areas. For instance, the percentage of Americans who know the United States fought Japan, Germany, and Italy in World War II has gone from 50% to 55% since 2018.
The percentage of Americans who know that nine Justices serve on the U.S. Supreme Court increased from 43% to 51%.
People applying for citizenship must correctly answer 12 out of 20 questions on the test. Even though most survey takers failed the test, 63% said the test’s difficulty was “about right.”
The DFI survey, conducted by Lincoln Park Strategies, has a margin of error of ±3.1 with a random sample of 1,000 American citizens.
Patrick Riccards, founder and chief executive officer of DFI, says, “We launched our initiative to make American history content interesting and relevant for today’s learners, especially females and people of color. The latest survey shows we’re not moving fast enough. Americans are rightfully proud of their country, but they risk losing what makes it special if more of us don’t understand and appreciate our history.”
DFI’s UNTOLD series on YouTube is the home for short formvideos; it includes sections highlighting Black, Latino, and women’s history; DFI also makes related materials available to educators, whether in a traditional classroom, virtual or hybrid setting, including a comprehensive professional development series created in partnership with the Kentucky Valley Education Collective.
Makematic and DoGoodery create and distribute the videos. DFI is also collaborating with the American Battlefield Trust, New York Historical Society, iCivics, Smithsonian, and others on the creation of specific video series for high school students.
DFI uses an integrated set of efforts designed to get at the three legs of the history instruction stool:
Support instruction for current K–12 American history teachers, designed to both improve their own understanding of American history and empower them to better connect with their students and make history an exciting and worthwhile pursuit of study. As an incentive, teachers who successfully participate in DFI receive micro-credentials and badges that signify they are part of a national network committed to improving American history instruction.
Curriculum design for both traditional classrooms and out-of-school-time environments,
changing the very way American history is taught in communities across the nation; and
Direct-to-consumer engagement, providing interesting and dynamic learning opportunities to students (and by extension,their families) through a digital platform.
To meet these needs, DFI launched a pilot project that recruitssmall teams of educators in all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. This project helps shape the development of the website content, ensuring the most effective utilization possible.
Ultimately, DFI will seek to develop an online professional development platform, a series of “historians’ toolkits,” models for a “flipped” American history curriculum, and an archive of games and simulations for educators to use with students.