Is Our Heritage Lost? – Commentary by Frank Gillispie
Are you smarter than a politician? The Institute for American Civil Literacy decided to find the
answer to that question. For the last several years, they have conducted a survey of Americans to see just how much they know
about civics and history. The answers are disturbing.
In 2008 they ask 2,508 Americans a series of 33 questions, then gave the nation a grade from A to F.
Only 21 people received an "A" meaning they scored 90% or above on the test. Another 66 people received a "B", 165 managed a "C"
and 445 people qualified for a "D". An amazing 1791 people out of 2,508, or 71.4%, failed to achieve a score of 60 or higher.
On most of the questions, elected officials scored lower than the general public. For example: 44% of
elected officials were able to identify Row vs. Wade as the primary Supreme Court ruling involving legal abortions. The public did
a bit better with 51% knowing the answer.
Less than 46% of elected officials knew that the Constitution gives the power to declare war to
Congress, not the president. The general public did a bit better with 54% answering correctly.
How did President Roosevelt react when the supreme court ruled against some of his programs? About
25% of us knew that he tried to expand the court so he could appoint judges who would support his programs while fewer that 20%
of elected officials knew that.
But the politicians came out ahead on a couple of questions, but even then they were not
impressive. Approximately 24% of our elected officials knew that the Lincoln-Douglas debates were about expanding slavery into the new
territories. Only 19% of the general public got that right.
If you would like to take the test, go to
So what are we to make of this? In its summary, the Institute listed among its major findings that
Americans failed the test with a average score of 49%. This failure crosses all political and regional lines. Liberals earned a
49% score: Conservatives came in at 48%. Republicans averaged 52% and Democrats achieved only a 45% score.
Nor does higher education help. College graduates with a bachelor's degree scored 57% which is only
13% higher than those with a high school diploma.
Our educational system is a failure when it comes to teaching fundamental history and civics to our
citizens. Or as one commentator said, Americans are too dumb to cast an enlightened vote. In my opinion, our schools spend far too
much time being politically correct and pushing social changes and far too little time in basic education. And if we lose track
of our history and heritage, we will lose America.
At the end of the Constitutional Convention, someone asked Benjamin Franklin, "What have you given
us?" He answered, "A Republic, if you can keep it." A radical politician once said. "If you would conquer a people, first take
away their heritage." I am afraid both of those statements are coming true. Our culture, our history and our heritage is
nearly lost. And so is our liberty. Time is running short.
"A people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power that knowledge gives. A popular government
without popular knowledge or the means of acquiring it, is but a prelude to a farce or a tragedy or perhaps both."
"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be." "
Copyright © 2009 by Frank Gillispie
firstname.lastname@example.org, Hull, GA