NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Civics Knowledge In U.S. A Scandal

May 31, 2000

The United States, the country the Clinton Administration calls "the world's indispensable nation," is losing its historical memory. This cultural illiteracy has led more than 80 educational and public policy groups to form the National Alliance for Civic Education to drive civics reform at the local and state levels. According to a survey of top seniors at 55 colleges and universities by the Roper organization:

  • While nearly 100 percent could identify cartoon characters Beavis and Butthead and rapper Snoop Doggy Dogg, only 34 percent knew George Washington was the American general at the battle of Yorktown.
  • Only a third were able to identify the Constitution as establishing the division of powers in the U.S. government.
  • Eighty-one percent of those top students earned a D or F in response to basic historical questions.

Only 25 states now require any civics education in public schools at all, and U.S. adults finished last in a nine-nation survey asking respondents to identify regions and countries on an unmarked map of the world. Fourteen percent couldn't even find the United States.

Critics speculate that the death of history in America can be traced to several reasons, including a wantonness that often overtakes a culture during prosperous times and the intellectual fracturing of the history profession.

Source: Georgie Anne Geyer, "National Memory," Dallas Morning News, May 29, 2000.


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