8th grade civics knowledge

I suppose I should be all upset that 8th graders don’t really understand separation of powers, but I’m not.  Could we do better with civics education in this country?  Assuredly.  Is civics (and probably science, too) education suffering because it is not tested every year from 3-8 and reading and math are?  Assuredly.  Still, I just cannot get all worked up from stuff like this:

Fewer than half of American eighth graders knew the purpose of the Bill of Rights on the most recent national civics examination, and only one in 10 demonstrated acceptable knowledge of the checks and balances among the legislative, executive and judicial branches, according to test results released on Wednesday…

“The results confirm an alarming and continuing trend that civics in America is in decline,” said Charles N. Quigley, executive director of the Center for Civic Education, a nonprofit group in California. “During the past decade or so, educational policy and practice appear to have focused more and more upon developing the worker at the expense of developing the citizen.”

Undoubtedly true.  But… Salon has a sampling of 10 of the 8th grade questions– some of them strike me as really hard for an 8th grader.

2. A military government in Country X is taking away the political rights of a particular group in the country. What impact would this most likely have on the United States?

  1. An increase in inflation in the United States
  2. An increase in immigration from Country X to the United States
  3. A decrease in United States import tariffs
  4. A decrease in the number of cases brought before the Supreme Court

3. The United States and Japan disagree most about the

  1. growing power of the Japanese military
  2. openness of Japanese markets to American products
  3. need to give aid to underdeveloped countries
  4. number of Japanese who can immigrate to the United States

4. Which of the following has been ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court?

  1. Requiring students in public schools to recite prayers
  2. Requiring journalists to reveal the names of people who provide information for news stories
  3. Allowing citizens to sue the federal government
  4. Allowing states to require that children be vaccinated against diseases

The fact that 8th graders (much less HS seniors, honestly) just doesn’t bother me that much.  At that point in their education, I just hope that they are learning the value of being a good citizen and have the basics of our structure of government figured out.  Heck, I’m pretty sure a good number of my current students would miss #3.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

One Response to 8th grade civics knowledge

  1. Jeff Pelletier says:

    I don’t know that I could get any of those correct.

    8th grade civics only makes me think of jeopardy competitions with Mike Tracy and another guy that ended up going to Duke. Or was his name Duke?

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