Jay Leno’s old Tonight Show man-on-the-street quizzes were particularly hilarious — and depressing — when he tested Americans’ knowledge of their own government.
One woman thought the colonies won their independence from Greece; a college instructor guessed that U.S. independence was won in 1922; and a man said the general who led our troops in the Revolutionary War was Winston Churchill.
Funny stuff, until you remember that these are the same citizens who elect the leaders who shape the nation’s future, if they bother to vote at all. Nor are these know-nothings outliers.
Surveys and tests repeatedly show that Americans’ knowledge of civics is pathetic. In 2010, just one in five eighth-graders tested proficient in civics on a national performance assessment — worse even than their dismal performance in reading and math.
A poll of Millennials, out last week, found that 77% of these 18- to 34-year-olds could not name even one of their home state’s U.S. senators.
A 2012 survey of adults by Xavier University found that one in three native-born citizens failed the civics portion of a test given to immigrants seeking U.S. citizenship. The pass rate for immigrants: 97.5%.