ShareThis Page
Tom Purcell

Tom Purcell: Failing U.S. Citizenship

| Monday, Oct. 8, 2018, 8:03 p.m.

“If younger generations don’t know why and how America is such a great nation, we are doomed!”

“Ah, you speak of the recent Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation survey that finds only one in three Americans can pass the U.S. Citizenship Test.”

“You got that right. Two-thirds of Americans failed the 10-multiple-choice-question test even though they only needed six correct answers to pass.”

“That is troubling. The foundation says, ‘Only 13 percent of those surveyed knew when the U.S. Constitution was ratified.’ It says: ‘More than half of respondents (60 percent) didn’t know which countries the United States fought in World War II. And despite the recent media spotlight on the U.S. Supreme Court, 57 percent of those surveyed did not know how many Justices actually serve on the nation’s highest court.’”

“What are these people being taught in high school and college?”

“A better question is what are they NOT being taught? As the foundation notes, ‘It would be an error to view these findings as merely an embarrassment. Knowledge of the history of our country is fundamental to maintaining a democratic society, which is imperiled today.’ ”

“Just for the heck of it, I took the test. The questions aren’t so difficult. How can so many Americans not answer at least six correctly?”

“The foundation reports that 72 percent of respondents weren’t sure about or misidentified the 13 original states, and just 24 percent ‘could correctly identify one thing Benjamin Franklin was famous for, with 37 percent believing he invented the lightbulb’ — the same percentage who ‘knew the correct answer as to why the colonists fought the British.’ ”

“Yeah, and I’m especially worried about the 2 percent who thought climate change was the cause of the Cold War!”

“The survey also found that younger generations are especially ignorant of the American system. Americans age 65 or older ‘scored the best, with 74 percent answering at least six in 10 questions correctly.’ But only 19 percent of those under 45 passed, ‘with 81 percent scoring a 59 percent or lower.’ ”

“That means older generations, who understand the importance of checks and balances to restrict each government branch’s power — and the triumph of our free-market system over socialism and communism — will eventually give way to younger generations who don’t understand these basic concepts.”

“Yes, that’s our greatest worry. Per Chicago Tribune columnist Steve Chapman, the University of Chicago’s GenForward Survey of Americans age 18 to 34 finds that 62 percent of them think ‘we need a strong government to handle today’s complex economic problems,’ but only 35 percent say ‘the free market can handle these problems without government being involved.’ What’s worse: 61 percent of millennial Democrats — and 25 percent of millennial Republicans — have a positive view of socialism.”

“As I said, we’re doomed!”

“Not if we heed the words of President Abraham Lincoln: ‘America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.’ We have our work cut out for us, but we must teach the young why and how America became so great.”

Freelance writer Tom Purcell of Library is author of “Misadventures of a 1970s Childhood.” Visit him on the web at

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.

click me