Ebonmuse of Daylight Atheism wrote an entry about a recent poll by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute that caught my eye:
A recent poll by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute found, as many previous surveys have found, that Americans’ knowledge of political and historical facts about our country is abysmal. But this one added a twist – it surveyed elected officials as well as ordinary citizens, and found that their knowledge of the same facts was, if anything, even worse. (You can take the quiz yourself.)
This results of the poll don’t surprise me at all. One need only pay attention to some of the drive-by comments on SEB to see the truth of those results. Still I was curious how my civics knowledge ranked so I took the quiz to find out. Turns out I’m not bad:
You answered 29 out of 33 correctly — 87.88 %
Average score for this quiz during December: 74.9%
Average score: 74.9%
Compare that with some of our elected officials:
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.
How indeed. I was surprised that none of the four questions I missed had anything to do with economics, which is a subject I admit I don’t have a lot of background in. I missed questions #4, 7, 14, and 18 and in three of those cases I had initially picked the right answer, but went back and changed it before submitting due to self-doubt. Still, my score was just shy of double the elected official’s score so I can’t be too upset about it.
Ebonmuse goes on to talk about how this is an effect of the continuing assault on intellectualism and “anti-elitism” that the Republicans have been engaged in over the years. Here’s my favorite bits:
Anti-intellectualism is nothing new, of course. There’s always been a strong undercurrent of it in American society, one that dates back at least to the Scopes trial, and it’s not a surprise that belligerently anti-science regions of the country elect representatives who act in kind. That’s not new, but what is new is that our society – stretching the limits of what Earth’s resources will support – is increasingly dependent on science and technology, and increasingly beset with problems, such as global climate change, that only scientific understanding will give us a hope to comprehend or solve. As the stakes get higher, we can less and less afford to have irrationalism poisoning the public debate and swaying our policy choices. The risk is too great that it will lead us astray at a critical moment.
The problem of anti-intellectualism has no easy solution, particularly when so many people take pride in their ignorance rather than viewing it as something to be ashamed of. Improving public schools is necessary, but at best it treats a symptom rather than a cause. What we need more is a return to the attitude that being intelligent and educated is a good thing which people should aspire to.
It’s a good entry and you should go read it all. I’ve been saying something similar for years. Too many people wear their ignorance as as a badge of honor and think themselves clever for doing so. An uninformed populace is what got us eight years of President Dumbass because too many folks thought that a President they could “have a beer with” was capable of running the country and two wars in an effective manner. The recent election gives me hope that at least a small majority of folks out there can recognize when they’ve been burned by the hot stove and decide not to touch it again, but there are still too many people on the far right who are so caught up in their delusions and ignorance that they can’t even recognize what a shitty president Bush has been. He does, after all, still have 28% of the population that thinks he’s the best President ever.
Thomas Jefferson once said “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.” And James Madison once said “A popular government without popular information or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to Farce, or a Tragedy, or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance. And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.” When the public decides ignorance is bliss we end up with things like the Bush Administration and the current economic crisis.
Smarten up, folks. Use that brain you believe God gave you for more than holding the roof of your head up.