Sure, they can design computer hardware or launch a startup company, but do they know the number of U.S. Supreme Court justices?
New Times put Arizona State University students to the test last week to find out if they'd have trouble passing a civics test that's soon to be a high-school graduation requirement.
See how they did in our video below:
As you might guess, our three-minute video only represents the range of answers we got. We tried to keep it brief and interesting. (All right, we edited the hell out of this because ASU students are pretty dang knowledgeable and we had to leave room for the livelier wrong answers.)
In all, we interviewed 19 people, giving them a sampling of six or seven questions from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services naturalization test. As many of them had heard, Arizona's new governor, Doug Ducey, this month signed into law the new requirement for high schoolers starting in the 2016-2017 school year. The students would have to nail 60 out of 100 U.S. government and history questions in order to graduate, meaning if ASU students got just two of five of our question wrong, they might not have been in college in this state.
Arizona is the first to pass such a law, but due to an Arizona-based project, other states are now lining up to force students to memorize basic factoids about their own country. The Joe Foss Institute in Scottsdale, named after fighter-pilot ace and former South Dakota governor who retired in Arizona, has a goal to make the test a requirement in all 50 states. The group is bringing Jay Leno to town as entertainment for its April 19 banquet, we see from its website -- a most appropriate choice considering Leno's "Jaywalking" segments (along with national surveys of students showing a lack of basic knowledge) probably helped inspire the civics requirement.
We found that our crop of 19 victims would have scored between an A and a C on the test -- most could probably pass the 60-question civics test cold, in other words. Sometimes we heard humorous wrong answers to the questions by people who otherwise scored well. At least three of the ASU students with whom we chatted would likely fail the new state test without a refresher course.
We asked the following questions:
* Who is the current U.S. president?
* Who is the current U.S. vice-president?
* U.S. Senators are elected to serve how many years?
* Congressmen/Congresswomen are elected to serve how many years?
* How many justices are on the U.S. Supreme Court?
* Who was president in World War II?
Occasionally we'd toss a trick question into the mix: Did Benjamin Franklin serve for one or two terms as president?
Only a few students got that one wrong -- you know Franklin served for no terms as president, right?
For the most part, we were forced to admire the general knowledge of the students we randomly pulled away from their busy day. One smart-aleck, Raymie Humbert, a political science undergrad, not only knew there are nine Supreme Court justices, but quickly rattled off their names. Blake Ehlers, studying computer system engineering, knows his Founding Fathers from his motherboards. We couldn't stump psychology major Carlos Hernandez.
On the other hand, the fact that even a few university students don't know who the vice president is, or believe that U.S. Representatives are elected for life, could be considered cause for concern.
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In any case, we hope our video encourages you to learn more about your government -- like, did you know the Arizona State Legislature has time to pass laws like this, but hasn't yet figured out how to fund a school-spending shortfall of hundreds of millions of dollars?
Got a tip? Send it to: Ray Stern.