Americans have lamented their own "civic ignorance" for generations. But a Newsweek poll suggests the problem might be distinctly worse than imagined. The magazine gave 1,000 citizens the country's official citizenship test, and 38 percent failed. A third of them couldn't name the vice president. Seventy-three percent couldn't say what the Cold War was about. And 6 percent couldn't find Independence Day on a calendar. Who's to blame for this appalling lack of knowledge about basic history and civics? (Watch a discussion about the poll results)
Politicians are distorting facts: This one "cannot be blamed on the American people alone," says Doug Mataconis at Outside the Beltway. America's "politicians, pundits, and interest groups regularly engage in disinformation and demagoguery," twisting the facts to suit their politics. With all the distortion, "it's nearly impossible for the casual observer of politics to know what the truth is."
"America the ignorant"
Blame the education system: Government and history are just "not getting taught in schools," says Cheryl Miller at The American. Teachers are spending less time on history because it's not included on high school exit exams. And when it is time for social studies, teachers are "skimping on facts and giving short shrift to fundamental concepts about our system of government."
"U.S. citizens fail naturalization test"
Political ignorance is part of our national character: Our form of government is just too darned complicated, says Corky Siemaszko in the New York Daily News. TV could educate the masses, but "our market-driven media ensure that public broadcasting is shortchanged." And most Americans are more interested in "the travails of drug-addled actor Charlie Sheen than the tax troubles of Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.)." So get used to it. Our "national cluelessness" is chronic.
"Nation of know-nothings: 1,000 U.S. citizens take citizenship test and 38 percent fail"
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- This is what happens when Republicans actually enact their radical agenda
- How I dug myself out of debt — and stayed that way
- Russia is stealthily threatening America with nuclear war
- 6 things the happiest families all have in common
- The science of sex: 4 harsh truths about dating and mating
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- 13 Urban Outfitters controversies
- 11 weeknight dinners you can make without a recipe
- Your 2-year-old doesn't need to go to school
- 10 things you need to know today: September 17, 2014
Subscribe to the Week