It’s not exactly news that many Americans are a bit weak in their knowledge of civics and history, but new survey results help put the situation in sharp relief.
The most striking finding was that nearly half of U.S. adults identified a phrase popularized by Karl Marx—"from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs"—as coming from one of America’s founding documents.
Of the 42 percent of respondents who incorrectly identified the phrase, the most common response was that it could be found in the Bill of Rights. That’s from a December survey commissioned by the nonprofit Bill of Rights Institute.
“It is imperative that Americans understand how vital the Bill of Rights is to the future of our country,” Jason Ross, a vice president at the Bill of Rights Institute, said in a press release unveiling the new survey data. “With a better understanding of our founding documents, Americans can see how much our experiment in self-government depends on the ideas of the Founders and why America has been an example of freedom up to this point.”
In other results from the survey, 55 percent of Americans did not recognize that “education” is not a First Amendment right and only one in five correctly identified the 10th Amendment as the one that reserves powers to the states and the people.
The survey comes as the Bill of Rights Institute this week launched a new initiative to educate Americans about the freedoms embodied in the first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution. As part of the undertaking, the organization has developed a new website focused on the text of the first 10 amendments, landmark Supreme Court cases and decisions based on those amendments, and various games and resources for students and educators.
The new survey was conducted online by Harris Interactive on behalf of the Bill of Rights Institute from Dec. 1-3, 2010, among 2,159 adults ages 18 and older.
For those who may need a refresher course, here’s a copy of the Bill of Rights.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.