What Do Americans Know about the American System?

By Emma Gobbell, Class of 2020

    A survey conducted by the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation this year discovered that a mere 36% of Americans were able to pass the U.S. citizenship test, based on questions given to immigrants who apply for American citizenship. This test consists of ten questions about the basic history and government structure of the United States, and a passing score is answering six or more correctly. This same survey revealed that 37% of Americans believed that Benjamin Franklin invented the light bulb. For people under the age of 45, only 19% of them passed the test. The best-scoring group on this test were adults age 75 and older, which seems strange, because one would assume that our education system has far surpassed the teachings from 50 or so years ago. Apparently it hasn’t, nor have 75 year olds forgotten their civics lessons. The test asks “civics” type questions about the Constitution and Declaration of Independence, but also asks some questions about American history and geography.

  In a separate survey, it was discovered that 37% of Americans could not name even one right guaranteed by the First Amendment and only 26% could name all three branches of government.
    So how would Providence seniors do on the same test?
   Mr. Rottman gave his seniors in American Government class a 20-question version of the citizenship test, which is twice as long as the version given to immigrants. All 18 of the Providence seniors passed the test. One hundred percent! (Although some struggled with “What is the second longest river in the U.S.?”)

    In fact, at least one of the questions that one student answered incorrectly had a faulty answer. Libertas Scholar Jenna Peterson noted that the answer “printing money” is not technically a correct answer to a question asking for an example of a power granted to Congress in the Constitution, because Congress is only given the power to “coin money.” Whether coining money implies the ability to print money, or implies the constitutionality of the Federal Reserve, which might then imply the legality of its quantitative easing…well, the test doesn’t go that deep.

    As the Providence American Government class transitions to learning about economics, Providence seniors are going to delve a bit deeper into subjects like these for the remainder of the year, so that they will understand not only the American political system, but our economic system as well. I, for one, am looking forward to that dive.