Nothing schools do is more important than teaching civics

I applaud this initiative, because there’s nothing schools do that is more important than teaching young people to be well-informed citizens:



September 17, 2014                                                                                           Contact: Camille



Three Former SC Governors Join Other State Leaders Announcing South Carolina Civics Education Initiative

State Legislative Effort Supported By Former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Pulitzer Prize-Winning Journalist Carl Bernstein, & Award-Winning Actor Joe Mantegna

COLUMBIA, SOUTH CAROLINA – Honoring the anniversary of U.S. Constitution, signed on this date in 1787, former South Carolina Governors Dick Riley, Jim Hodges and James Edwards joined state business leaders today in announcing the South Carolina Civics Education Initiative.  This state legislative effort aims to ensure all South Carolina high school graduates have a basic understanding of American civics and history.

“It is absolutely critical that all South Carolina students have a sound knowledge of civics,” said state co-chair Governor Riley, who also served as U.S. Secretary of Education from 1993-2001. “This is not a partisan issue.  It is an American issue.”

According to the Pew Research Center, only about one-third of Americans can name the three branches of the United States government, much less say what each does.  Studies of high school students in Oklahoma and Arizona showed less than a four percent passage rate on the Unites States Citizenship Civics test – the test all immigrants applying for U.S. citizenship must pass.  According to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which administers the civics test as part of the naturalization process, 92 percent of immigrants who take the test pass it on their first try.

The South Carolina Civics Education Initiative will promote an active and engaged citizenry by requiring all South Carolina high school students and those seeking general educational development (GED) study and take the 100-question USCIS Civics Test.

The legislation, which supporters plan to have introduced during the next session of the General Assembly in January, will award students making a minimum score of 60 with extra credit toward graduation. Students will be allowed to take the test as many times as necessary and will allow individual schools to administer the test in a way the school deems adequate.

“Understanding basic civics and how our government works needs to be a priority,” said Columbia businessman and Honor Flight of SC Chairman Bill Dukes, also a state co-chair. “Civic education will enable us to sustain our constitutional democracy.  Our citizens must be informed and responsible.  Our free and open society cannot succeed if our citizens don’t understand the fundamental values and principles of democracy.”

The USCIS Citizenship Civics test consists of 100 basic questions about American civics and history, such as:

What is the name of the President of the United States now?

Name one branch or part of the government.

What is the capital of your state?

What major event happened on September 11, 2001, in the United States?

“It is significant that the Civics Education Initiative is a politically non-partisan effort that understands the critical importance of teaching civics to students who will be stewards of our constitutional republic,” said state co-chair Karen Iacovelli, former member of the SC Education Oversight Committee and long-time education activist.

Its initial stages the SC Civics Education Initiative has enjoyed enthusiastic and broad support. State Co-Chairs include, in addition to Governor Riley, Mr. Dukes, and Mrs. Iacovelli, Governors James Edwards and Jim Hodges, Charleston developer Buck Limehouse, and South Carolina homebuilder Stewart Mungo.

One of the more popular aspects of this effort is the fact that there are no development costs for the test and little to no costs to develop study materials because the test itself and a wide range of study materials are available on the internet for free.

Six other states today are announcing similar state legislative efforts including Arizona, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Missouri, South Dakota and Utah.  The goal of the Civics Education Initiative is for every state in the nation to pass this legislation by September 17, 2017 – the 230th anniversary of the Constitution.  

The Initiative’s national board of directors includes former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Carl Bernstein, and actor Joe Mantegna who has been nominated for both Golden Globe and Emmy awards.  (National Board Video Message)

The Civics Education Initiative is an affiliate of the Joe Foss Institute, which was founded to educate American youth on the importance of our country’s unique freedoms, and to inspire them to public service. Joe Foss was a Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, former governor of South Dakota, and first commissioner of the American Football League.

For questions contact Camille Anderson at or 801-874-6497.


By the way, if you’d like to take a civics quiz like the one offered by USCIS to prospective citizens, click here.

I did, and got 100 percent, even though the test included trick questions such as the one below. Obviously, the correct answer is “The Recent Unpleasantness,” but that wasn’t offered as an option. So I had to choose a second-best answer. They graded it as though it were the correct one.

civil war


11 thoughts on “Nothing schools do is more important than teaching civics

  1. Brad Warthen Post author

    I sometimes wonder about how certain celebs get involved with certain initiatives. Sandra Day O’Connor, sure. I get that. Carl Bernstein, OK. But how did they get Joey Zasa involved? And does Vincent Mancini know about it?

  2. Doug Ross

    60 out of a 100 score to pass? Yep, that’s the perfect definition of a low information voter. How about we make it 90 instead and allow multiple retries until it is passed?

    And you don’t even need a GED in order to vote – which is why we have the politicians we end up with.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      You know, I almost did. There had been several questions about the Constitution, so when they asked, “Who wrote…” I clicked on Madison. Then I was about to go to the next question when I saw, “… the Declaration of Independence.”

  3. Norm Ivey

    100%, but it’s a superficial test.

    I doubt that many of those questions translate to becoming a good citizen. They are mostly just history and geography facts. You can look that stuff up if you forget it. It’s not quite trivia, but it’s close. I’d like the citizenry to have an understanding of the process of governing. I’d like for them to be able to appreciate multiple views on an issue. Knowing there are two major parties does you no good if you don’t understand each party’s vision for the nation. I want a populace that appreciates what the Bill of Rights guarantees, and fights to protect those rights for everyone. I want a citizenry that demands that accused persons get a fair trial. I want politicians who recognize they represent all citizens of a state, not just those who voted for them.

    1. Kathryn Fenner

      Yes, it is a superficial test. You do not need to know the difference between Jefferson and Madison to be a good citizen, but understanding what the Constitution does and doesn’t provide, what competing theories of governance may result in, and generally instilling a sense of community are vital.
      I would suggest that more important than civics is basic literacy and arithmetic skills, followed by basic critical analytical skills.

  4. Brad Warthen Post author

    Oh, yes — this test is absolutely bare minimum stuff. I like to think I could have passed it when I was in the 4th grade.

    But I still applaud any effort that seeks to make kids know more about their country and, as you say, how it works.

    Yeah, I’d like more sophisticated tests. For instance, I’d like our electorate to be sophisticated enough that no one who says “I want to run government like a business” (which shows a lack of understanding of both government and business) would ever get elected. I’d want every voter to understand the basic, profound ways in which government and business are different and SUPPOSED to be different.

    But that takes a level of understanding that many, many folks lack…

    1. Doug Ross

      As for “running the government like a business”, apparently the Sheheen campaign strongly disagrees with you, Brad.

      Please watch one of Sheheen’s latest ads:

      When I saw this one on TV, I thought it was going to be a Haley ad initially. But I guess Sheheen will say anything at this point to try and attract Republican voters.


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