US ignorance: Americans fail knowledge tests

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NEWSWEEK magazine gave the US Citizenship Test to 100 Americans – 38 percent failed. Is America doomed to suffer from a growth in ignorance?

In a report by NEWSWEEK it was learned that 29 percent of respondent would not even name the sitting US Vice President. 73 percent were unsure why America fought the cold war. 44 percent were at a loss to delineate the US Bill of Rights and 6 percent had no idea what date the US celebrated its Independence Day.

America has always had an ongoing battle with civic ignorance, with rampant misinformation often winning out above facts. Past studies often showed a lack of interest and knowledge of the American system of governance.

But Americans are not merely unknowledgeable about their own backyard, they also know little about the rest of the world as well.

In 2009 the the European Journal of Communication quizzed individuals from the UK, Denmark, Finland, and the United States on international affairs.

The Americans failed miserably.

68 percent of Danes, 75 percent of Brits, and 76 percent of Finns identified the Taliban with ease, while only 58 percent of Americans could— even though US has actively waged a war in Afghanistan against the Taliban.

The US often falls behind its international counterparts in knowledge aptitude tests.

It’s like comparing apples and oranges. Unlike Denmark, we have a lot of very poor people without access to good education, and a huge immigrant population that doesn’t even speak English,” Dalton Conley, an NYU sociologist explained to Yahoo News, citing the massive income inequality gap in America.

In addition, in the US education is fragmented. Each state dictates its own educational minimums, while each city, town, county or district manages its own educational structures or plans within those minimums. The system is highly decentralized.

When you have more centrally managed curricula, you have more common knowledge and a stronger civic culture,” noted Yale political scientist Jacob Hacker.

There is also a lack of coverage of global issues by US media; citing public broadcasting usually focuses on such matters, while American corporate media does not. A recent ECJ study found media which focuses more on international coverage provides a citizenry with broader knowledge and fosters learning.

In the past the United States could get along in the world without focusing on knowing more about it. But, times have changed. The US is no longer an isolationist nation and with an increasingly globalized world connected technologically and socially, it is more imperative Americans increase their knowledge base.