Take a civics test – give it to your kid!

Instapundit links to this rather alarming report. Seems our college students do very poorly on civics tests (probably because they don’t really teach “civics” – or what used to be called “civics” in high school anymore…but they do help students feel really good about themselves so…what could be wrong?)

•Average scores for the 25 selective colleges — chosen for type, geographic location and U.S. News & World Report ranking — were much higher than the 25 randomly selected schools for both freshmen (56.6% vs. 43.7%) and seniors (59.4% vs. 48.4%), but the elite schools didn’t add as much civic knowledge between the freshman and senior years. At elite schools, the seniors averaged 2.8 points higher than the freshmen vs. 4.7 points for the randomly selected schools.

•Harvard seniors had the highest average at 69.6%, 5.97 points higher than its freshmen but still a D+. A Harvard senior posted the only perfect score.

•In general, the better a college’s U.S. News & World Report ranking, the less its civic literacy gain. Yale, with the highest-scoring freshmen (68.94%), along with Princeton, Duke and Cornell, were among eight schools with freshmen outscoring seniors.
[...]
“Several of the colleges at the lower end of our survey are some of the most prestigious in the country, with average tuition, room and board somewhere north of $40,000 a year,” Bunting says. “These are the schools, although their stated mission is to help prepare active citizens, that are the most derelict in their responsibility.”

I love this last paragraph:

No one would argue that college students know enough about history or the world, but a civics test may not be the best measure of civic engagement, says Debra Humphreys of the Association of American Colleges & Universities, which promotes liberal education. Other studies have shown that college students are much more likely to vote and be civically [sic] engaged than non-students, she adds.

Says Humphreys: “It would be wrong to conclude from this study that the leadership of these selective schools is not committed to educating their students about these subjects.”

Yeah you guys…you’d better come to some other conclusion because the obvious one, that would be the wrong one. (Don’t you folks do nuance?) Look at the tables. NO college scored better than a D! When looking at the breakdown of each question, it’s interesting to note just how misinformed our students are about the origin of the doctrine of “separation of church and state” (question number eight) and what the Bill of Rights – quite reasonably – prohibits (question thirty).

You can take the quiz here. It’s not long.

My score:

You answered 55 out of 60 correctly — 91.67 %
Average score for this quiz during September: 75.2%
Average score since September 18, 2007: 75.2%

I’ll be honest, that score is not completely accurate; a few of those “correct” answers were purely guessing – at least four or five of them – I really stink at economics, and I’m not well-educated, either. Still, I seem to have done better than the average, which is kind of nice. Let me know how you scored. I know the majority of my readers are probably conservatives, and supposedly there’s a study out there that says conservatives are stupid, but I’m willing to bet my readers will score at least to the average or better.

Betsy Newmark doesn’t think the test results are a big deal but I’m willing to bet her students would do better on the thing than most! :-)

By the way Indoctrinate U, the long-awaited documentary by Evan Coyne Maloney (one of my favorite Celtic names of all time) will be having its premier on Friday, September 28, at the Kennedy Center. Reviewed here and here. I can’t wait to see it. A trailer here.

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • http://donsingleton.blogspot.com/ singleton

    You did better than I did. But I still beat the average, just not by much. I had to guess on a number of them, that I would not really call Civics questions.

  • http://www.johnopedia.com john

    52 out of 60, 86.67% :-)

  • DPW

    I also took the test and scored an 85%. Not too bad for someone who graduated from high school about 40 years ago.

    I think it would be most interesting to find out the ages of the participants taking this test and I’m willing to bet that almost everyone whose scores are high had attended high school and college in the mid 60′s to early 70′s. After that time, for some reason, the schools and educators did a sea change and ceased to teach or hold students accountable for learning. We haven’t been “educating” our children for at least 35 years.

  • Bender B. Rodriguez

    Well, this moronic conservative got 56 out of 60 (but, then again, I majored in PoliSci). I’ve never read Democracy in America, and a few of the questions were just plain confusing, while I would argue over a couple more.

  • http://www.pal2pal.com/BLOGEE Pal2Pal

    You answered 55 out of 60 correctly — 91.67 %
    Average score for this quiz during September: 75.2%
    Average score since September 18, 2007: 75.2%

    Considering that I’m the world’s worst on economics, I’m pretty happy with my score. My Mom had a Masters in Economics and I guess I figured she’d always be there to answer my questions, so I steered clear of the subject as best I could.

    I wish the study would be broken down by age. It is my opinion that the education I received back in the ’50s and early ’60s was much superior to what I saw my kids get or see my grandchildren getting today.

  • http://sailorette.blogspot.com/ Foxfier

    You answered 49 out of 60 correctly — 81.67 %

    I was rather startled, really– I expected to do much worse. Seriously, my history education– the part that didn’t come from listening to my family and old songs– is horrible. I know almost zero dates, my philosophy consists of a logic class and a B&N “best of philosophy” book, and I’ve never even SEEN the Federalist Papers!

    Oh, but I did get a full year of “World Knowledge,” a year of Washington history (which was utter Amarindianophile propaganda) and TWO years on how horrible Vietnam was.

    I guessed correctly on several, as well, and several of the questions seemed very poorly phrased.

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  • http://benningswritingpad.blogspot.com/ benning

    You answered 54 out of 60 correctly — 90.00 %
    Average score for this quiz during September: 75.1%

    Sheesh! And me out of school for 30 years! LOL

    The odd philosphy questions got me – I have never read Plato. Oy!

    I still feel under-educated.

  • malcolmkirkpatrick

    “You answered 57 out of 60 correctly — 95.00%”

    Got the one about the women’s vote wrong, and the major federal budget item, and “just war”.

    Pretty good for a Math major, huh? I’m a liberal, in the 19th century sense of the term (laissez faire). High school in the sixties, college in the late sixties and early seventies. My parents were academic economists and my sisters majored in History. Pal2Pal is probably right; we old-timers will do okay. Kids these days. Sheesh.

  • http://www.pal2pal.com/BLOGEE/ Terrye

    malcolm, I am impressed. I missed more than you. I got 52 out of 60.

  • http://ibasho.blogspot.com Papa

    This stupid conservative got 58 out of 60 correct — 96.67%

    Missed questions on effect of Federal Reserve bond purchases and largest Federal expenditure. Economics was definitely the most difficult topic.

  • bluepike

    Another from the ’60′s (HS 1965) 53/60 88.3%. Maybe our civic and debating classes (and teachers)are why we’re able to argue a point without attacking the opponent, ala the left? Or maybe, just maybe mind you…conservatives are… ;-)

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  • bluepike

    Another troll from the ’60′s (HS 1965) with 53/60 88.3%. Maybe our civic and debating teachers taught us how to analyze and defend a position. Or could it be…just maybe…just maybe…conservative are…;-)

  • Russ

    54 out of 60 for 90%. I am class of 81 for high school, but attended in Western Kentucky which is usually 10 years behind. I did cheat by getting an AS and an AA six years ago.

  • http://agangershome.blogspot.com Subvet

    83.3% here. High school grad of ’70. Not too bad for a recovering drunk, guess some of the brain cells still work.

  • http://www.reasonableminds.org Mark Grannis

    I got 58 out of 60, 96.67%, and I missed the same two questions as Papa. (In our defense, Papa, the question about the government’s biggest payout didn’t specify whether it was net or gross.) I also thought the economics questions were the most difficult (or at least the most esoteric), and I was an economics major.

    Having now taken the test myself, I am not that concerned about the below-average scores achieved by college students. It seems to me the point of civics classes — and ultimately of all public education in a representative democracy — should be to create citizens capable of governing themselves wisely. Thank goodness, our form of government does not depend on widespread public understanding of the relationship between bond purchases by central banks and loans by commercial banks. I also question whether it is really important for the average citizen to have the type of recall necessary to answer many of the questions on history or political philosophy in this quiz. Plato’s Republic is one of the greatest books of all time, but no one would be more shocked than Plato by the claim that the average citizen should be familiar with the general outlines of his argument.

    How about the fact that the (September) average on the Internet is higher than any college’s average for either freshmen or seniors? Selection bias. People with no interest in politics are less likely to click on the link to take the test, and people who rather like what passes for politics nowadays but don’t know who Edmund Burke is are less likely to finish.

    If I wanted to use these 60 questions to test something, I think I would use them to test “classicalness.” That is, I would give this test to seniors graduating with majors in political science or government. I suspect the schools with the higher average scores would be the ones where you should send a child for a classical education in political thought. The schools with the lower average scores would be the ones where political science majors learn a lot of nonsense about opinion polling and legislative compromise.

    I’ll tell you what I do find both surprising and disturbing: That Catholic colleges scored so far below the average of other colleges. Granted, this is probably largely due to the fact that the schools surveyed included Notre Dame but not Georgetown . . . but still I expected better.

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  • Bruce

    59 out of 60, though not all answered with equal certainty. (I blamed by misreading the Adam Smith answer, but guess I should have known enough to see that left me with NO correct answers, so I’d bother to proof it! Does buzzing through it on lunch break count as an excuse?)

    Actually, I’m more nervous about running it by my own kids, since I’ve held myself responsible to tutor them in precisely some of these areas (economics and some history) where I find even the best high schools –including theirs– are deficient)

    Quite honestly, though many of the questions were about things kids SHOULD know, and the bulk of the rest about things it would be GOOD for them to know, some of it struck me as gotcha trivia (not to mention some oddly-worded answers). There are a number of OTHER things on MY list of ‘should know and understand’. So, does anyone know of any OTHER such tests, or tools suggesting what our kids should be learning.

  • JimS

    56 out of 60 for 93.3% — another stupid conservative.

  • Silent Running

    55 out of 60 for 91.67%

  • Patrick

    55 of 60, graduated from high school in 1988. Then again, I think most of the items I knew came from my own reading since I tend to absorb massive amounts of (mostly) useless trivia.

  • Elaine T

    I missed three questions yesterday. The Edmund Burke, the bonds and … I forget what the other one was. Some were purely guesses, as I’ve not read Toqueville, either, and NONE of the just war answers seemed terribly germane to what I understand the just war discussions to have been about (recently, that is). Wondered what the point of the bond question was, and why they didn’t offer “republic” as a possible answer when it was the obvious term needed.

  • cathyf

    You answered 57 out of 60 correctly — 95.00 %

    I was guessing between Saratoga and Yorktown, and guessed wrong.

    I read one of the answers wrong — I picked “Adam Smith argued that the division of labor decreases the wealth of nations” because I’m dyslexic and thought that it said increases.

    And I’d argue about the effect of the Fed purchasing bonds. That is, in fact, the mechanism by which the Fed increases the money supply — they direct the treasury to print money, and then use that money to buy government bonds. This is inflation, and causes interest rates to go up.

  • cathyf

    Oh, and I don’t know if I count as an old fart or not. Graduated high school in ’81 and college in ’84.

  • http://www.marchhareshouse.blogspot.com March Hare

    You answered 52 out of 60 correctly — 86.67%

    Not as good as I had hoped! I missed one question because I thought it said Andrew JACKSON and it was referring to Andrew JOHNSON.

    I notice I’m one of the “dummies” on this blog! I have no one to blame. I had several excellent history teachers and very few “indoctrinators.”

  • Tully

    Yikes. 60 for 60. I don’t know whether to proud or frightened.

    I admit I guessed on a couple, albeit correctly.

  • Hank_F_M

    You answered 56 out of 60 correctly — 93.33 %

    Many of the questions had at least one plausible wrong response and at least one “stupid” response. I wonder about the plausible wrong answer average versus “stupid response” average.

  • dick

    I am another who got 56 out of 60. Not too shabby for someone who graduated from college 47 years ago and has not read any history other than current affairs since (although my current affairs is now history). As a friend told me I had better do well since I lived most of the questions.

    I do have to say that even the idiots from my high school would have done better than these college students on this test – and I grew up in a farming and lower middle class midwestern small town.

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  • http://none Darrell

    I missed 5. Truth be told, I stopped caring at some point. Must be a short attention span.

  • njcommuter

    I pulled 58 out of 60 with some guessing–two of my guesses were wrong. I also had to reason my way through some questions, and collect knowledge from different times and places for others. I would not have nearly as well right after graduating college; much of what I know I learned in subsequent reading. Mine was a technical education (engineering); a liberal arts education ought to do more.

    This is a fairly tough test for general knowledge. The presence of the “obviously wrong” choices makes it a little easier, but they should probably be given a negative value to penalize those who can’t or won’t think.


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