The failure of Congress to accomplish the basic task of funding the federal government — thus forcing it to close down this week — provides us with a new opportunity to look at the miserable state of civics literacy in the country.

A study undertaken by the Center for the Study of the American Dream at Xavier University  in Cincinnati, Ohio, is instructive. Last year the center took the basic civic literacy test (see some questions below) that immigrants must pass in order to become American citizens and gave it to native Americans.

In 2010, 97.5 percent of immigrants taking the test passed,  according to this report by the center on their study. One in three native Americans failed, based on a standard of getting six out of 10 questions correctly. If the pass rate had been 7 out of 10, a full half of those taking the test would have flunked, the report said. Trouble was most acute in the U.S. constitution and current political life.

Here are some of the questions asked and percentage of native Americans that got them wrong.


The center’s website says:

It is our strong contention that civic illiteracy is a threat to the American Dream because it is a threat to the freedom we treasure…. Freedom is not found in the state of nature, and must be fought for and vigilantly guarded. In order to do this successfully, Americans are expected to know what freedom means beyond sloganeering and applause lines. This includes understanding the nature of the freedoms won by those who have gone before us and the obligations freedom demands of us to ensure its continuance.

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.