Are You Smar⁠t⁠er ⁠t⁠han a 1970s S⁠t⁠uden⁠t⁠?

By: The James Madison Institute / September 15, 2010

The James Madison Institute


September 15, 2010

By Bill Mattox, JMI Resident Fellow
With a number of recent surveys showing a high level of “civics illiteracy” among the young, many public officials have made a renewed commitment to teaching founding principles in middle and high school classrooms.  Indeed, earlier this year, Florida passed a requirement that all students in the state take at least one semester of civics during their middle school years. This is certainly a welcome development – which JMI rightly celebrates – but my colleague Bob Sanchez thinks we could have used a little more civics education a long time ago.And he’s got the data to prove it.Bob recently showed me an article he wrote back in the early 1970s soon after 18 year-olds gained the right to vote.  Entitled “Students must now become the best informed generation,” the article reported on a survey Bob conducted of 48 Florida State University undergraduates enrolled in a mass media class. When he asked these students how many U.S. Senators they could name, the average student could name only two.  One third of the class could not name a single U.S. Senator.  And the most anyone could muster was 16.  (Interestingly, the most-frequently named Senator in Bob’s survey was Teddy Kennedy – he actually outpolled both of Florida’s Senators at the time!)I don’t know whether Bob’s survey question should be regarded as the All-Time Definitive Test of Civics Knowledge.  (And, frankly, there are currently more U.S. Senators that I’d like to forget than I’d care to remember!) Still, his question does give all of us a chance to have some fun and prove whether we are smarter than a 1970s student.  So, how ‘bout it?  How many current U.S. Senators can you name?  And which 2010 U.S. Senate candidate would you most like to keep off the list?