Students enrolled in colleges in the U.S. may not know much about history or what a slide rule is for, but at least they have some familiarity with the Constitution, right?
Don’t bet on it. The American public continues to show a staggering level of ignorance about the basic principles of America’s Constitution and government, according to a new survey put out by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA).
ACTA, which promotes high standards and a core curriculum for college students, commissioned a survey of 383 college graduates nationwide and quizzed them on basic American civics via a series of multiple-choice questions. The result were, for the most part, appalling.
When asked to choose among a list of four people currently on the U.S. Supreme Court, only 62% correctly chose Elena Kagan, while 10% chose Judith Sheindlin, better known to most of America as Judge Judy. One third of respondents couldn’t correctly identify the Bill of Rights as a series of amendments to the Constitution, only 54% could correctly state the term lengths for U.S. senators and representatives, and 32% thought John Boehner was president of the Senate rather than speaker of the House.
On some questions, an incorrect answer even drew more support than the correct one. Fifty-nine percent of respondents labeled Thomas Jefferson the “Father of the Constitution” (he in fact played no role is its creation), while only 28% correctly assigned that title to James Madison. Forty-three percent believed that a constitutional amendment requires presidential approval, slightly above the 42% who correctly said an amendment requires approval from three-fourths of the states.
There were a handful of bright spots, though. Eighty-four percent correctly said the right to an education is not a part of the First Amendment, and a solid 66% knew that habeas corpus protects against unlawful imprisonment.
The survey was released to coincide with Constitution Day, set to be commemorated Sept. 17. ACTA president Anne Neal argued in a statement that low constitutional literacy isn’t just embarrassing, but a threat to genuine democracy:
The findings are deeply troubling and underscore how our educational institutions are utterly failing to prepare our next leaders for citizenship. In a republic which depends on an educated citizenry, it’s crucial that all Americans — especially college graduates — are fully familiar with the rights and responsibilities set out in the Constitution.
ACTA’s goal in releasing the survey is to encourage a strengthening of U.S. civics education at the college level. The organization claims in its press release that only 18% of U.S. colleges require students to take a class in U.S. history or government in order to graduate.
This report, by Blake Neff, was cross-posted by arrangement with the Daily Caller News Foundation.