(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)
Regular JPGB readers will recall that the Goldwater Institute gave a version of the United States Citizenship Test to Arizona high school students, only to learn that they were profoundly ignorant regarding American government, history and geography. Only 3.5% of Arizona public school students got six or more questions correct, the passing threshold for immigrants.
The Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs wanted to know how Oklahoma high school students would fare on the exam- so we surveyed them and gave them precisely the same set of questions we asked Arizona students.
Perhaps I ought not to have been so hard on Arizona students. After all, they passed at a rate that was 25% higher than their peers in Oklahoma!
That’s right: the passing rate for Oklahoma high school students was 2.8%. They somehow underperformed Arizona’s already abysmally pathetic performance.
My favorite part of writing this paper was poking around in the Oklahoma state standards for civics. Here’s a quote:
Oklahoma schools teach social studies in Kindergarten through Grade 12. … However it is presented, social studies as a field of study incorporates many disciplines in an integrated fashion, and is designed to promote civic competence. Civic competence is the knowledge, skills, and attitudes required of students to be able to assume ‘the office of citizen,’ as Thomas Jefferson called it.
A social studies education encourages and enables each student to acquire a core of basic knowledge, an arsenal of useful skills, and a way of thinking drawn from many academic disciplines. Thus equipped, students are prepared to become informed, contributing, and participating citizens in this democratic republic, the United States of America.
That all sounds swell, except for the part where despite being taught social studies from K-12, Oklahoma high school students come out knowing about as much about American history and government as they know about Quantum Physics or ancient Sanskrit.
These kids wouldn’t do much worse if the pollster asked them questions in Sanskrit instead of English. The pollster would say “I am going to ask you some questions about American civics in Sanskrit. Answer as best you can. Question 1: संस्कृता वाक् संस्कृता वाक् संस्कृता वाक् संस्कृता वाक् ?”
There is some small chance they would answer “George Washington” after all.
I have an empty metal coffee pot in my office marked “Sweden Civics Survey Fund.” Please drop by a give what you can afford. Once it gets to a couple of thousand bucks, I’ll retain the pollster to give this exact same survey on AMERICAN civics to high school students in Sweden.
They couldn’t do much worse than the kids in Arizona and Oklahoma. Sadly, I suspect they would do much better.
(Edited for Clarity)