More Reasons to Fear
Not only are the millennials lacking in literacy, numeracy, and problem solving skills compared to their international peers but also their knowledge and understanding of civics and how the U.S.’s system of government works is dismally poor.
The problem is described in a report published earlier this year by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni. An excerpt of the really telling part is provided below (emphasis mine):
In late summer of 2015, ACTA commissioned the research firm GfK to survey recent American college graduates and the public at large about their understanding of our free institutions of government. Our questions were drawn from standard high school civics curricula. They emphasized the content of the U.S. Constitution and the basic workings of our government. A smaller number of questions also asked about prominent figures currently serving in the federal government.
The results were abysmal. For example:
- Only 20.6% of respondents could identify James Madison as the Father of the Constitution. More than 60% thought the answer was Thomas Jefferson—despite the fact that Jefferson, as U.S. ambassador to France, was not present during the Constitutional Convention.
- College graduates performed little better: Only 28.4% named Madison, and 59.2% chose Jefferson.
- How do Americans amend the Constitution? More than half of college graduates didn’t know. Almost 60% of college graduates failed to identify correctly a requirement for ratifying a constitutional amendment.
- We live in a dangerous world—but almost 40% of college graduates didn’t know that Congress has the power to declare war.
- College graduates were even confused about the term lengths of members of Congress. Almost half could not recognize that senators are elected to six-year terms and representatives are elected to two-year terms.
- Less than half of college graduates knew that presidential impeachments are tried before the U.S. Senate.
- And 9.6% of college graduates marked that Judith Sheindlin—“Judge Judy”—was on the Supreme Court!
Many of the figures may actually understate how poorly our colleges are doing because older respondents performed significantly better than younger ones. For example, 98.2% of college graduates over the age of 65 knew that the president cannot establish taxes—but only 73.8% of college graduates aged 25-34 answered correctly.
Most college graduates over age 65 knew how to amend the Constitution—76.7% answered correctly. But among college graduates aged 25-34, less than a third chose the right answer, and over half answered that the president must ratify an amendment, failing to comprehend how the division of powers among coequal branches protects citizens’ rights.
Notice that the questions in the survey were drawn from standard high school civics curricula. Kids should be entering college knowing this stuff, not graduating without knowing it.