Most native-born Americans would fail a United States citizenship test if they had to take it. Yet people born in other countries must earn a test score of at least 60 percent to become U.S. citizens.
The finding comes from a recent study supported by the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation. The non-profit is seeking to improve Americans’ historical knowledge. It says the results show teaching American students to memorize historical dates, names and events is not effective.
About 1,000 Americans across the U.S. took the test for the study. They were asked to choose the correct answer among several choices. But more than half of test-takers could not identify the 13 American colonies, the number of justices on the U.S. Supreme Court, or the countries the U.S. fought during World War II.
The group did even worse on other questions. Three out of four did not know why the colonists fought the British during the Revolutionary War, which led to the founding of the United States.
One in ten thought World War II General Dwight Eisenhower led troops in the U.S. Civil War.
While test-takers knew the cause of the Western countries’ Cold War with Soviet countries in the later 20th century, a few said the reason was climate change.
Older people over age 65 earned the highest scores on the test. But only one in five people under the age of 45 passed it.
Arthur Levine is the president of the Woodrow Wilson Foundation. He pointed out that Americans have a chance to vote in the midterm elections on November 6. In a democratic country especially, he said, “an informed and engaged citizenry is essential.”
Levine added that history can be an anchor at a time of change, as well as a way to study the changes that are happening. And, he said, history can connect Americans at a time when divisions are deep.
I’m Jonathan Evans.