Americans do not know basic facts about American history 

Americans, it seems, do not know much American history. And younger people know much less than older people. Does this matter? Yes, it does. Common sense would tell us that being at least moderately literate about key milestones of US history and knowledgeable about our institutions and how they work is a necessary prerequisite for a meaningful participation in any discussion about public policy.

Sadly, our citizens know very little, and the younger ones even less. This cannot be a good sign. Of course, being knowledgeable is not the same as being wise. But it is difficult to believe that ignorant citizens can somehow be wise.

How bad is the picture? You can get an idea by reading a WSJ Editorial (October 4, 2018) which summarizes key findings of an extensive survey.

“Ben Franklin Who?

Most Americans can’t pass the civics test required of immigrants.

These days it’s popular to lament that immigrants are destroying America’s national identity, but maybe we’re getting it backward. When the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation recently put questions from the U.S. Citizenship Test to American citizens, only one in three could pass the multiple choice test.

It’s embarrassing. According to the foundation, only 13% of Americans knew when the Constitution was ratified, and 60% didn’t know which countries the United States fought in World War II. Most couldn’t correctly identify the 13 original colonies, which at least is something of a teaser. But only 24% could identify something that Ben Franklin was famous for, and 37% thought it was for inventing the light bulb.

Even with a highly contested Supreme Court nomination now in play in the Senate, 57% of Americans couldn’t say how many Justices are on the Court. Older Americans did much better than younger Americans—only 19% of the under-45 crowd passed—which probably reflects the declining state of American public schools. None of this augurs well for the future of self-government.

We’ve always thought it important that immigrants must pass a test on the basics of American history and civics before they can be sworn in as citizens. Immigrants who are motivated to become citizens will take the time to learn. The real threat to American freedom is the failure of current citizens to learn even the most basic facts about U.S. history and government”.

  • The Wall Street Journal, Editorial, October 4, 2018