Monday, December 01, 2008

Civics Test

Everyone's favorite female, Palin-slamming, conservative columnist is up in arms about Americans "failing" a civics test given by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute. The average score was 49% (44% for elected officials — e.g., What does the Vice President do?), which is failing on the standard "less than 60%" scale. But, of course, this is only alarming if the questions are easy enough. I'm sure I could come up with a civics test that even Phutatorius would fail.

So, I took the test. Take it before reading further, because I'm going to spoil some of the answers.

It was kind of fun, but I'm not sure how alarmed we should be about the 49% average. Some of the questions were a bit tough for someone who doesn't study this stuff. But more importantly, I'm not sure how relevant all of them were and a number of the questions had some questionable answers (I'm still unconvinced about the Public Good question).
  • We have federal, state, and local government. Do I care that these aren't "branches"?
  • If someone knew Lincoln and Douglas debated about slavery, but not the specifics of the debate, does it matter?
  • If people knew more about what Socrates and Plato agreed on would they have voted for McCain?
  • Since we don't "Declare War" anymore and just wage war, is it even relevant that only Congress has that power?
  • If you buy me a cookie, is it a public good?
What would be more interesting is which wrong answers people gave. If you picked East Berlin over Cuba, or didn't know which amendment right to counsel was, then we're OK, I think. But what I want to know is what percentage of respondents thought:
  • The Electoral College trains people for higher office.
  • Canada and Mexico — nailed it, Governor! — were our enemies in WWII.
  • Congress shares foreign policy powers with the UN.
High numbers here would be troubling, sure, but a lot of the questions had reasonable alternatives. People actually did better than I thought they would . . .

And yes, I got an A. Missed exactly one question. The damn public good question. And I'm not sure they're right. But I also got lucky on a few . . .

Missed two — had the right answer on the Anti-Federalist question, then I changed it. I guess I read "government debt" to mean "budget deficit": my other mistake.



Public good still bothers me. A resident can benefit from it without directly paying for it? Again, if you buy me a cookie . . .

I admittedly got lucky. I didn't know the Socrates one, but it seemed right. The free markets one was process of elimination.

Kathleen Parker -- God love her! -- is so far off the right-wing reservation right now, it isn't even funny. She clearly understands that it has been the Republicans' political strategy, in the last two Presidential elections, not just to appeal to stupidity in the electorate, but to cultivate it.

I think Kathleen recognizes, as you and I do, that there is a space in the American political forum for bright people with ideas ("BPWIs") -- and just as the GOP isn't alone in prioritizing national security, the Dems have no monopoly on BPWIs.

If there ultimately emerges a conservative movement to challenge the GOP's Know-Nothings, you can expect Ms. Parker to be one of its champions. And possibly Peggy Noonan, too. This is, I think, Vercingetorix territory, and it's why I'd like to see him blogging here someday.


Phutatorius said...
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Mithridates said...
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Phutatorius said...
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PPG said...

Took it after six hours of my best impression as a CSR. Missed one, and I think I was lucky on the philosopher question. Oh well. I still don't think I know more than the average park ranger. Excluding the last three months, I just work harder than that park ranger.

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