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Most Americans fail basic citizenship test

Americans are losing ground in their knowledge of basic history and civics.

A new survey from the Woodrow Wilson Foundation found that about 60 percent of U.S. citizens would flunk a U.S. citizenship test.

According to the data from more than 41,000 people surveyed, only 53 percent of the people in Vermont — the highest-performing state — were able to earn a passing grade — with at least a D — for U.S. history. In the lowest-performing state of Louisiana, only 27 percent were able to pass.

To add some perspective, 90 percent of immigrants seeking citizenship reportedly make the grade on their first attempt, which means they answered six out of 10 correctly. The test facing the immigrants is also much more difficult since it’s oral and there’s no multiple choice.

Survey results showed:

• 57 percent did not know that Woodrow Wilson was the commander in chief during World War I.

• 85 percent did not know when the Constitution was written (1787).

• 75 percent could not identify how many amendments have been added to the document (27).

• 25 percent did not know that freedom of speech was guaranteed under the First Amendment.

In addition, more than a third did not know the century in which the American Revolution took place, and half of the respondents believed the Civil War, the Emancipation Proclamation or the War of 1812 took place before the American Revolution.

The poor results reflect our present culture. Something is out of whack in our educational priorities when more people are able to identify Michael Jackson as the composer of “Beat It” and “Billie Jean” than can identify the Bill of Rights as a body of amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

Angela E. Kamrath, vice president of the American Heritage Education Foundation, has a blunt warning about ignoring our history.

“Without citizens learning of America’s founding principles and history, America as we know it cannot survive, she stated. “America’s heritage is at risk in our society, culture, institutions and education today.”

Another study by the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania found that just 26 percent of Americans could name the three branches of government: executive, legislative and judicial. The ignorance of that basic fact extends to the halls of Congress as well.

Newly elected Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a favorite of the media and socialist Democrats on the far left, referred to the three branches of government as the “White House, the Senate and the House of Representatives.”

Supreme Court justices had to wince at the New York congresswoman’s gaffe.

John F. Kennedy would have a difficult time recognizing today’s Democratic Party. It was Kennedy who once stated: “The rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God.”

Karl Marx, the German philosopher, revolutionary socialist and father of Communism, meanwhile, said, “Take away a people’s roots, and they can easily be moved.”

There’s some hope to make history more captivating.

Arthur Levine, president of the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, recognizes that knowledge of American history must serve as an anchor in times of change and that this requires a fundamental change in how American history is taught and learned. To make it relevant to students’ lives, the foundation is launching an initiative that includes digital lesson plans.

It’s a small but positive step to address what the Woodrow Wilson Foundation calls the “waning knowledge of American history” and one of the greatest educational challenges facing the U.S.

By Jim Zbick | tneditor@tnonline.com