Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Ave, John Mac!

John McCrarey points me to an online, 33-question "Full Civic Literacy Exam." As John notes, the average score for Americans taking the test was a rather shameful 49%. College educators, according to the site, did little better, averaging an anemic 55% (in most counties of the US, that would be an "F"). John himself can hold his head up high: he scored a resounding 94%. I didn't do quite so well: I scored an 87.88%, or a 29 out of 33. John gets an "A"; I get a "B."

One of the most interesting aspects of this exam is the table you can consult at the end of it. It indicates quite clearly that there exists a "knowledge gap" between self-identified elected officials who took the test and everyday citizens. The gap tilts in favor of normal citizens, i.e., on average, our elected officials are less civic-literate than the rest of us are—thus confirming the long-standing suspicion that our politicians tend to be dumber than the public they serve.

I expect Mike, the history and politics buff, to get a 100% on this, although I suspect he might not like the wording and/or political subtext of some of the questions.

ADDENDUM: The quiz also reviews the answers you got wrong. I'd like to talk about my wrong answers, but I can't do that here, so I'll lay them out in a comment. Please don't click on the comment thread until you've taken the exam yourself.



Kevin Kim said...

Questions I got wrong:


Question: Which of the following fiscal policy combinations has the federal government most often followed to stimulate economic activity when the economy is in a severe recession?

Your Answer: decreasing both taxes and spending

Correct Answer: decreasing taxes and increasing spending

DISCUSSION: I honestly had no clue, which was a source of shame for me. People debate about how to handle recessions all the time—how could I not know this? And yet I knew nothing, really—nothing except the rhetoric, which goes something like this on the Republican side: "Those tax-and-spend Democrats!" Reasoning that, since 1950, the majority of US presidents have been Republicans, and reasoning that Republicans take their own rhetoric seriously (i.e., we think taxing and spending is anathema), I chose the answer I chose.

But, no: the correct answer is that most administrations have handled recessions by decreasing taxes (the supposedly GOP solution) while also increasing spending (the supposedly Democrat solution). So how's that been working out for us, guys?


Question: In 1935 and 1936 the Supreme Court declared that important parts of the New Deal were unconstitutional. President Roosevelt responded by threatening to:

Your Answer: impeach several Supreme Court justices

Correct Answer: appoint additional Supreme Court justices who shared his views

DISCUSSION: I avoided the correct answer because I interpreted it to mean that FDR was going to add to the number of justices on the Supreme Court. Assuming that we can't go above nine justices (just as there are nine Ringwraiths), I picked a different answer. Of course, I have no clue as to whether Supreme Court justices can even be impeached. A sitting president can be impeached, but he's an elected official, whereas Supreme Court justices are appointed. Does that make a difference? Are appointees immune to impeachment? I haven't the foggiest.


Question: If taxes equal government spending, then:

Your Answer: government debt is zero

Correct Answer: tax per person equals government spending per person on average

DISCUSSION: I should have been able to reason this one out, but like a neophyte taking the SAT, I grabbed at the seemingly obvious answer.


Question: What was the main issue in the debates between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas in 1858?

Your Answer: Do Southern states have the constitutional right to leave the union?

Correct Answer: Would slavery be allowed to expand to new territories?

DISCUSSION: Here again, I had no damn idea what the Lincoln-Douglas debates had been about. Assuming the Civil War had been over slavery and secession, I picked the answer that seemed most sensible. "Expand to new territories" didn't sound right to me at all, so I cavalierly dismissed that answer.

Unknown said...

I got them all correct though I think a few were ambiguously written.

John said...

Not bad at all. I also missed the one on taxes/spending with the same answer as you. My other miss was the quote from the Gettysburg address. I should have known better.

Truth be told, this was as much a history test as it was about civics.

Kevin Kim said...




Agreed—very much a history test. Then again, I never took a course named "Civics" when I was in school; I still have no clear idea what "Civics" means, and how it's different from a straight-up history/government course.

John said...

Well, back in those olden days when I was a student I guess civics came under the umbrella of "social studies". I do recall that studying the structure of government and the Constitution were separate from the history courses.

Charles said...

I didn't expect to do very well on this. However, I ended up getting 29 out of 33 as well. I missed the Roosevelt/New Deal question, too (had no idea that he threatened to appoint new judges--but I assumed that appointing new judges would require impeaching or removing existing judges, so I eliminated those two choices).

I also got wrong: the question on what the Bill of Rights explicitly prohibits (oops), the question on international trade and specialization (should've gotten that one right, in retrospect), and the question on the "wall of separation."

Unknown said...

You answered 32 out of 33 correctly — 96.97 %

Incorrect Answers
Question: The Puritans:
Your Answer: opposed all wars on moral grounds
Correct Answer: stressed the sinfulness of all humanity

Perhaps there should have been a Quakers vs Puritans death match. Damn them both.

John said...

I got 26 out of 33! Not bad for a little Kiwi!