AN UNEDUCATED ELECTORATE

AN UNEDUCATED ELECTORATE

he results of a nationwide test of civics and government education have little that's good to say about American students or schools.

The test - National Assessment of Educational Progress - given to a representative sample of students in 1998 by a group established by Congress, found that more than one-third of U.S. high-school seniors lack even a basic understanding of how government works. Only 26 percent demonstrated a solid knowledge of the subject.And the 40 percent in between showed a rudimentary grasp of some fundamentals, but may well lack the knowledge to be able to vote intelligently.

Scaled-down versions of the national-assessment exam were also given to samples of eighth-grade students and fourth-grade students. The results were just as discouraging: One-third of each group couldn't even meet basic standards of knowledge. Moreover, 94 percent of eighth-graders were unable to describe two ways that nations benefit from having a constitution; 85 percent of fourth-graders couldn't name two services that taxes pay for.

In other words, in a world where people and their governments face ever more complex challenges, a majority of the 21st-century American electorate could have little idea of how America's government works. It's a depressing and frightening prospect - and one for which there's no possible excuse. The situation needs to be corrected, starting now.