View Full Version : American Civic Literacy Test

11-15-2007, 10:14 AM

As a subscriber to The Watchdog, some of you may be aware that recently publication has been folded into that of the Camp Chase Gazette. Having received the most recent copy, I read the editorial this morning. The thrust of it is that in a survey of American college freshman and seniors, historical knowledge of this countries distant and not-too-distant past is at abysmal levels.

According to the piece, 35,000 college freshmen and seniors, tested at 85 colleges (including Ivy League) scored as follows:

Freshmen: 50.4%
Seniors: 54.2%

For further pondering, Harvard ranked highest of all with a score of 63.59%/69.56%

In other words, collectively, American college students have earned a most-solid 'F' when it comes to familiarity and literacy as regards US History.

Ok, well, that may be, but how would you do on such a test? I just found out how I would do.

A disclaimer: I was not a history major, or even particularly devout in my study of history prior to 3-4 years ago (I'm 33 now). I got OK grades in school in history and civics. I took the test, thinking I would score pretty well on any Civil War-era questions, but was unsure about the rest. After all, for that score to be that low among college students, the test must be pretty rigorous, right?

I scored a 49 out of 60 questions, or 81.67%.


I feel even worse about the college students' scores now. I'm telling you, I'm not 'Mr. History', and I blew it out of the water compared to these folks.

I don't have the solution to this problem, but there's no doubt in my mind that it is a problem. I would love to know how to turn this around. I can't believe such ignorance is prevalent. Living in the present is a common goal these days, understandably, but without the past, how do we introduce ourselves to each other, to the world? How do we complete the answer to the question, "Who are you?" if we remain so ignorant?

I'm pretty stunned by all this. I knew it was bad, but not this bad.

Take the test yourself and share your results. I'd be interested in seeing how the rest of you fare. My suspicion is that my score will be among the lower ranks in this group.

The test is found at www.americancivicliteracy.org

Pete K
11-15-2007, 11:21 AM
I scored 80% (B-), but it has been over twenty years since college Economics and Civics. I scored well on the History questions and better than average on the Civics, but Economic theory....well, I need to brush up on this area. A good thinking exercise. Thanks for the post.

11-15-2007, 11:54 AM
I scored 85%, but I have to say, most of the quiz seemed to be in the "useless trivia" category. Sure, we're history buffs here, but I think most people could live full, productive lives without knowing about Plato or Alexis de Tocqueville or that Gettysburg occurred after Fort Sumter, unless it was important for their particular hobby or profession. And if it was, they would.

Everyone believes there's stuff that everybody ought to know. I've heard people argue that everyone should know the basics of repairing a car, or primitive survival techniques, or elementary science like the second law of thermal dynamics, or have some self-defense training, or take a course in first aid, or be physically fit, or know where food comes from beyond the grocery... Because that's how they picture the world and what's important to them.

And one can make a good argument for all those things. Who cares about civics when your Honda Civic has a flat tire on the roadside? Who cares about cars when the oil's gone and anarchy reigns and you need to feed your family? But why raise your kids to be survivalists rather than scientists who can invent things that increase everyone's quality of life?

If somebody tells me I oughta know something, and I haven't felt a lack of it, I just ignore them, same way I'd expect them to ignore me when I say they oughta know something. :D

Hank Trent

11-15-2007, 01:05 PM
I scored an 81.67%. Like others said, I did very well on history, but the economics hit me hard. Some of the political theory is stuff I haven't studied or taught in years. That must be why I am a history teacher and not economics...

I found the trivial questions as well, but also poorly worded questions and answer choices. If this is the test they are basing their conclusions upon, we might not be in that bad of shape. Unfortunate, but no sirens going off for me as an educator.

Rob Weaver
11-15-2007, 06:27 PM
I'm afraid a poor knowledge of history is neither new nor an exclusively American phenomenon. My favorite story is the British soldier who told the press in 1915, while waiting for a train at Waterloo Station something to the effect that "He was proud to be serving his country and fighting the enemy now, just as his ancestor did on this very spot one hundred years ago." Alas, I suppose he also failed his geography test as well.

11-15-2007, 10:42 PM
51/60 for 85%.

Most of the missed ones were the later ones, where, I'm sad to say, I guessed wrong. There are parts of history in which I am deficient.

11-16-2007, 03:44 AM
77% - ugh.

Regrettably, all I know about economics is that I'm always broke.

8th TexCav
11-16-2007, 06:47 AM
54/60 90% and I too blew the economics! That must be why I am still working instead of being retired. :rolleyes:

bob 125th nysvi
11-17-2007, 10:28 PM
colleges have been marking on curves for decades so instead of scores being absolute they are relative with the person scoring the highest on the test beconming the '100' and every else going down form their.

I'm sure if the same students we were talking about looked at the 'results Watchdog/CCG were claiming and then looked at their grade in history class they'd be a little perplexed.

11-18-2007, 12:04 AM
Answers to Your Missed Questions:

Question #13 - B. the nature and control of Reconstruction.
Question #19 - C. philosopher kings.
Question #31 - A. Edmund Burke argued that society consists of a union of past, present, and future generations.
Question #33 - C. To receive ambassadors.
Question #50 - A. the price system utilizes more local knowledge of means and ends.
Question #53 - B. a resident can benefit from it without directly paying for it.
Question #55 - E. increased for the lower and middle classes and increased most for the upper class.
Question #57 - A. Theaters will sell fewer tickets.
Question #58 - B. An increase in the volume of commercial bank loans.
Question #59 - C. requires those with higher incomes to pay a higher ratio of taxes to income.
Question #60 - B. social security.

I knew I should have taken Economics.

11-18-2007, 06:10 PM
Remind me never to ask you for financial advice...

Doug Cooper
11-18-2007, 09:24 PM
I also scored 90% and sadly, I think I would have scored higher in the mid 90's when I finished my Masters. I got 2 econ questions wrong, and 2 philosophy questions, all of which I used to know. My Army War College professors would be all over me if they knew I forgot the Just War question!! Only one question did I not recognize at all. Uh oh - wonder what else I have forgotten?

Robert A Mosher
11-18-2007, 10:54 PM
I scored 90 percent, 54 out of 60, getting tripped up on two economic questions, three philosophical, and one government. Frankly, I don't think that's too bad after this many years away from school rooms that focused upon these specific questions.

But I also think that based upon this questionnaire, a lot of the alarm being raised is somewhat bogus. I graduated from high school in 1968, from college in 1968, and received my master's degree in 1987. The fact that I know the answers to many of these questions has little to do with what I learned in classroom and more to do with what I read and studied out of the classroom and the fact that I spent 30 years in government service - much of this was basic required working knowledge. I doubt that many profession or occupations outside government call upon such details as were called for in answering these questions.

Most American colleges and the majority of American high schools are not focused upon rote memorization of facts - they are focused upon teaching the student how to think for themselves and educators from around the world are trying to figure out how to get this capability into their own educationals systems.

Sherlock Holmes once told Dr. Watson that he never bothered to memorize anything that he could look up - I found it to be outstanding advice.

Robert A. Mosher

11-19-2007, 12:32 AM
45 out of 60 for 75% or so. The economics and government questions ate me up.

11-19-2007, 01:41 AM
colleges have been marking on curves for decades so instead of scores being absolute they are relative with the person scoring the highest on the test beconming the '100' and every else going down form their.

I don't know...I graduated from college in ought one, and from my recollection not all classes were graded on the curve. A lot has been said about this being a poor measure of what modern students really know. I guess I can agree that this isn't scientific knowledge, but as for me, I was not a history student, I am (regrettably) not much of a student of history outside the CW, and I do not work in government service. Aside from the CW, I think I've got a pretty average education for my demographic.

Honestly, I don't think there was more than one question about the CW, and although I didn't ace the test, my score (and that of others on this thread) fairly blew the alleged stats out of the water.

That said, I suppose one could dispute the test. All I really wanted to do was to see if people on this forum would perform significantly better than the test scores.

Everyone believes there's stuff that everybody ought to know. Mr. Trent, I know exactly what you mean, but this is not exactly thermal dynamics, is it? Aside from the economics questions (possibly), I think most of this is pretty basic. Of course, that's me. I mean, it's not something arcane like the Klingon language. But everyone knows that, right? Right!?!

Justin Runyon
11-19-2007, 01:29 PM
53/60 for an 88.3%. I blow at Econ as well.

11-19-2007, 04:57 PM
THAT WAS FUN and I learned me a few thangs from those I missed too I scored 83.33% dont no that much bout eko nomics it pears ;)