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Poll: Americans’ Knowledge of Government, History in ‘Crisis'

  • VOA News

FILE - The Capitol Dome in Washington is illuminated early on Jan. 12, 2016, the day of President Barack Obama's final State of the Union address before Congress in Washington.

FILE - The Capitol Dome in Washington is illuminated early on Jan. 12, 2016, the day of President Barack Obama's final State of the Union address before Congress in Washington.

Many people who live in the United States are “alarmingly ignorant of America’s history and heritage,” according to a new poll.

The poll found, for example, that 10 percent of American college graduates incorrectly think celebrity television judge Judith Sheindlin, known as “Judge Judy,” is a member of the U.S. Supreme Court.

The poll, which was conducted in August of 2015, surveyed both college graduates and the general public and found many were lacking some basic knowledge about the U.S.

For example, only 20.6 percent of Americans were able to identify James Madison as the father of the Constitution, with more than 60 percent naming Thomas Jefferson, who was the primary author of the Declaration of Independence.

College graduates only scored marginally better.

The survey also found that roughly 60 percent of college graduates couldn’t correctly name a requirement for the ratification of a constitutional amendment, and 40 percent didn’t know Congress has the constitutional authority to declare war.

Not even half know that the Senate oversees presidential impeachments.

“These were not isolated findings,” said the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, or ACTA, which conducted the survey.

“A 2012 ACTA survey found that less than 20 [percent] of American college graduates could accurately identify the effect of the Emancipation Proclamation, less than half could identify George Washington as the American general at Yorktown ((Virginia)), and only 42 [percent] knew that the Battle of the Bulge occurred during World War II.”

ACTA found in another recent survey that of over 1,100 liberal arts colleges and universities, only 18 percent require a course in American history or government.

“When surveys repeatedly show that college graduates do not understand the fundamental processes of our government and the historical forces that shaped it, the problem is much greater than a simple lack of factual knowledge,” said ACTA. “It is a dangerous sign of civic disempowerment.”

ACTA describes itself as an “independent, non-profit organization committed to academic freedom, excellence, and accountability at America's colleges and universities.”

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