Monday, November 24, 2008

US Officials Flunk Test of American History, Economics, Civics

Compare your own test scores with those of your clueless elected public officials

Do you think your elected officials are clueless? Last Thursday's Yahoo News provides some disturbing evidence of that:
WASHINGTON (AFP) – US elected officials scored abysmally on a test measuring their civic knowledge, with an average grade of just 44 percent, the group that organized the exam said Thursday.
Ordinary citizens did not fare much better, scoring just 49 percent correct on the 33 exam questions compiled by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI).
"It is disturbing enough that the general public failed ISI's civic literacy test, but when you consider the even more dismal scores of elected officials, you have to be concerned," said Josiah Bunting, chairman of the National Civic Literacy Board at ISI.
"How can political leaders make informed decisions if they don't understand the American experience?" he added.
Read the full story here:
US officials flunk test of American history, economics, civics
Do you believe you're smarter than your average congress-critter?

Take the ISI Civics Literacy Test here to find out.

Don't forget to report back with your results.


Anonymous said...

I scored 24 out of 33 correctly — 72.73 % Nothing to brag about, but the performance of elected officials, with an average grade of 44%, is downright shameful.

Fly on the wall said...

I just got my results from the test. You answered 25 out of 33 correctly — 75.76 %

Not really any thing to be proud of, but better than the political hacks running our country.

BenJoe said...

I scored 23 out of 33 correctly - 72.73%. At least I got all of the economic questions right.

Bill C. said...

Jeeze, I got 29 out of 33 and blew the Lincoln debate. Future states rights as opposed to the rights of the southern states, bad.
This result gives one pause, being a high school dropout and scoring 87.88% exceeding the political class' dismal showing.

dan s. said...

I hate to brag, but...

32 out of 33 correct (97%).

But then, I've had lots of experience with multiple-choice tests. If you read the answers carefully enough, you can often figure out which is correct even if you didn't know the right answer ahead of time. Many of my choices were just educated guesses that turned out to be correct. The one I got wrong was number 29 (definition of "public good"), and with hindsight I should have read it more carefully and gotten it right as well.

By the way, although I confessed to my doctoral degree at the end of the quiz, higher education helped me only in indirect ways (experience with multiple choice tests and hanging out with educated people). My only college course in political science was a waste of time (my great regret is that I took it from the wrong professor when I could have had Paul Wellstone!). I've never studied economics at all, and my last course in American history was in high school.

dan s. said...

Ha! I thought a few of those economic questions had a capitalist slant to them. After clicking around a bit I see that ISI calls itself a "bedrock conservative organization"; its first president was Bill Buckley; and they brag that some of their alumni got jobs in the Reagan Administration.

dan s. said...

And check out all the old white guys on the ISI Board of Trustees.

The content of the test definitely reflects this makeup. Someone oughta come up with a similar test that covers a more diverse array of American historical, political, and economic topics.

Bill C. said...

Hey Dan, I found myself wondering if some of those freemarket ecconomic might not have some completely different answers after the last 25 years. It seems to me there really is no free market, so to speak. Globally it's impossible to find.

OgdenLover said...

Like Bill C., I got 87.88%.

Moroni McConkie said...

C'mon, Curm, we wait with 'bated breath for your announcement of 100%.

dan s. said...


I don't think the slant of the test makes it any harder to figure out which are the intended answers--if you read the questions and answers very carefully. But several of the questions "push" a particular point of view, and the choice of topics is very much what you would expect from old white male intellectual Republicans.

RudiZink said...

HAY WAITTAMINUTE DAN!!! Weren't you that guy tellin' us... just a coupla days ago:

"Although I'm proud to be a leeb'ral, I'm also proud to be a conservative."

Dang, Dan... Make up your mind! You can't straddle the fence... Not in Sean Hannity's Amerika!

Pretty well illustrates the uselessness of the "liberal" and "conservative" political labels in the 21st century, dunnit?

Curmudgeon said...


Missed two, both economic theory questions, and the answer to one of which I'd contest.

The economic theory questions aside, most of the rest seem to me to be the sort of general civic knowledge we used to expect HS grads to have, as a matter of course. [Three branches of government; what's the electoral college; what does the Bill of Rights specifically guarantee; what does the Dec of Ind guarantee; etc. etc.] Some of the history questions were a tad picky [in the sense that the answers I'd not expect to find under "general public civic knowledge" --- e.g. the Lincoln/Douglas debate question.]

But there's no reason most folks with a good HS education shouldn't have gotten 65% on this thing with few problems, at a minimum. And there's absolutely no reason any public official... from hogreeve on up to President... shouldn't have gotten that much right, at least.

What the numbers seem to suggest is that elected officials generally reflect the knowledge base of the general electorate. Hmmmmm.... Maybe Sara Palin can be president.

And on that cheerful note, I'm off to class, trying to make sure my students won't embarrass themselves on pop public tests like these. Maybe I'll give it to a class next term, first day, just to see....

momba said...

I, too, did 32 of 33 and I don't think of myself as especially civically educated. When looking at the scores chart I can't believe how officials did.

This quiz was weighted in favor of people 50-70 years old, since a good deal of the questions came from their own particular period of history (student age - early adult).

John Lindquist said...


What's wrong with that?

Why shouldn't Funeral Parlors be the major driving force in the Ogden economy?

It may cost a bundle, but we'll bury your dead with dignity.

dan s. said...


Yep. The "liberal" and "conservative" labels are way over-used. Often they're just used as euphemisms for Democrat and Republican--leading to all sorts of contradictions like "conservatives" wanting to use up our natural resources as quickly as possible.

The ISI seems to be squarely in the "intellectual conservative" tradition of Bill Buckley. Their core principle is that government should never interfere with people making money. If that's the definition of "conservative", then I'm afraid I'm not much of a conservative; my own view is that government shouldn't interfere with people making money unless there's a good reason to interfere, which there often is. But we need to listen to the intellectual conservatives, because in practice they're sometimes right.

I also think the intellectual conservatives put too much emphasis on Western history, Western intellectual traditions, and old white guys in general. While it's deplorable that so many Americans don't know much about their own political history, it's also deplorable that most Americans know even less about the rest of the world, and about other facets of their own history.

I'm tempted to go on to bemoan how the national Republican Party has been taken over by anti-intellectual religious conservatives, but I'd better shut up before I make even more enemies.

Curmudgeon said...

[Curmudgeon notes Dan S's post above and --- Curmudgeon being an "old white guy in general" himself --- grumbles quietly and begins to channel Rodney Dangerfield.]

UtahTeacher said...

29/33 for 87.88% correct. I think some of the historical ones I got correct aren't extremely relevant to a person's ability to understand government today, e.g. the Plato/Socrates question. I got the FDR one right, but I just guessed by eliminating the other answers as possibilities. I had not actually heard/read about that incident.

Like many others have said, much of what I did know came from individual reading outside of school. Teaching it in 8th and 11th grade US History doesn't guarantee the student will care enough to remember, though you would hope the very basics like life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, WWII, first amendment, etc. would sink in. As a teenager, I used to find US history terminally boring.

Rafiki said...

I got around 67% which I figure is alright. Hell I guessed on quite a few and still got better than average. I like to leave room to grow :)

Monotreme said...

Like many others, I got 29/33 for 87.9%. Luckily for me, mi esposa got the same score, so neither one of us has bragging rights.

bill greene said...

Knowing a lot of facts and dates is only a sign of a good memory. Unless the broad tableau of human history is comprehended, memorization of isolated facts provides no wisdom.

I have advocated the use of the case method to compare and evaluate the actual results obtained throughout history of varying religious, political and economic systems. Viewed in that light, the successful methods and principles emerge from the welter of facts.

The lessons of history are there if you look beyond isolated facts and see the very clear patterns. Human societies have tried just about every conceivable variation. The winning--and losing-- combinations are revealed in my book "Common Genius." Indeed it can all be reduced to an algebraic formula-- the Radzewicz Rule. No memorization required!

Curmudgeon said...


You wrote: Knowing a lot of facts and dates is only a sign of a good memory. Unless the broad tableau of human history is comprehended, memorization of isolated facts provides no wisdom.

True enough in a general sort of way, but it is also true that not much serious discussion about history or public affairs can go on without those involved in the discussion sharing some substantial common knowledge upon which to base that discussion. And yes, that means some factual knowledge as well.

While I'd be the first to agree with you, enthusiastically, that "teaching" [politely so-called] history by having students memorize lists of names and dates isn't teaching history at all, and takes what is for most people an inherently interesting topic [history], filled with drama and fascinating characters and makes it dull as dishwater, I'd also argue that for Americans to be good citizens, able to take part in public discussions and debate about national policy, they must have in hand some shared knowledge of the nation's history and constitutional arrangements. People demanding that Congress or the President do something, who have no earthly idea what Congress is, how it is chosen, what its powers are and how it operates [ditto for the President], aren't engaging in a public policy discussion. They engaging in a bull session.

That understanding history does not mean having command of a long list of names and dates is certainly true. But just as true is this: trying to understand history without grasping key fundamental underlying facts is a hopeless endeavor.

Anonymous said...


I got 31/33, BUT I was a History/Political Science major in college.

I got the Gettysburg Address question wrong...never did learn about it in school, except that Lincoln did NOT free the slaves in the US in that speech.

History boring: That's mostly because you (and I) took History in the old days, when it was King this fought King that in 1422, etc., etc.

Now, History is much more taught from the perspective of this is what it was like in the old days for someone like you. When people can be helped to visualize what it was like to live in past times, and how those times relate to their circumstances today, it is MUCH more intersting.


Justin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Justin Morris said...

Ha, I misspelled in my last post. I am so OCD!

I agree, some of the economic questions did seem slanted.

You answered 27 out of 33 correctly — 81.82 %

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