Education: A Problem of American Democracy
A recent survey conducted by Lincoln Park Strategies for the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation revealed that just over a third of Americans, 36 percent, can pass the same “US Citizenship Test” given to candidates for naturalization. Worse, a meagre 60 percent score was considered “passing.” More sadly yet, the passing rate among Americans 45-years old and younger was only 19 percent.
The late Eleanor Witmeyer would be appalled.
Eleanor Witmeyer, our high school Problems of Democracy teacher, took her job very seriously. Miss Witmeyer’s classes focused on American history, government, including America’s founding documents, and American/international current events. She spent weeks teaching the United States Constitution. Those weeks stand tall among a lifetime of educational experiences.
The citizenship test is multiple choice, so the correct answers follow the questions. Nonetheless, nearly three-quarters of Americans tested couldn’t identify which states were among America’s original thirteen.
From the Foundation’s synopsis of results: “Only 13 percent…knew when the U.S. Constitution was ratified…with most incorrectly thinking it occurred in 1776. More than half of respondents (60 percent) didn’t know which countries the United States fought in World War II. And despite the recent media spotlight on the U.S. Supreme Court, 57 percent…did not know how many Justices actually serve on the nation’s highest court.”
Thirty-seven percent of those tested believed Benjamin Franklin invented the lightbulb; only 24 percent knew why American colonists fought the British; twelve percent thought General Dwight Eisenhower fought in the Civil War; and, while most knew the cause of the Cold War, 2 percent picked “climate change.”
The Foundation’s expressed objective was to prepare Americans to cast informed votes in the November 2018 midterm elections.
But the test results revealed a larger, far more serious problem. The aggregate results represented a clear indictment of America’s grade, secondary and even higher education systems’ failures to produce informed, engaged citizens having a sense of and appreciation for their nation’s history, government, culture and traditions.
But there’s little mystery about the Foundation’s poor test results. American education has declined.
The most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress — the nation’s “report card” — revealed that, even though America’s high school graduation rate exceeds 80 percent, only 37 percent of 12th-graders tested proficient or better in reading, and only 25 percent qualified in math.
In other words, high school diplomas attesting that graduates can read and count can be awarded even though 63 percent aren’t fully-proficient in reading and 75 percent cannot do secondary-level math.
More money won’t fix the failures of American education. Increased funding hasn’t improved results or benefitted kids for years. But the adults in education today are doing just fine, because their unions keep returning lots of campaign cash to the politicians who fund education and approve their contracts.
America already spends as much as or more per student than most industrialized nations. If public schools overall produced better results, taxpayers would be less likely to view them as feedlots for unions and the politicians unions control.