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Do you really know what we celebrate July Fourth?

Staff Report • Jul 2, 2012 at 8:30 AM

Wednesday is Independence Day, which to many Americans is a welcomed day off from work. Families will celebrate the holiday with fireworks, picnics and trips to the lake.

Perhaps we should also squeeze in a little time on the Fourth of July to brush up on what the holiday is truly all about. That means spending a little time with a book that tells us how and why this country was founded, and how we came to have the liberties we often take for granted.

As we’ve noted in this space before, Americans are notoriously ignorant when it comes to knowing history. We are especially bad at recalling the history of this country. Equally troublesome is the fact that too many of us don’t have a proper understanding of how government works and why.

The Intercollegiate Studies Institute has conducted a number of studies over the years and has found most Americans really stink at civics. And it doesn’t matter if you are young or old; a high school dropout or a college graduate; or even a high-ranking elected official; most cannot pass a simple civics exam ISI has developed for its studies.

The institute’s findings are not exactly encouraging. As the organization notes on its website: “The results of ISI’s past civic literacy research does not inspire confidence that our institutions of higher learning are living up to their educative and civic responsibilities — responsibilities that almost all American colleges recognize as critical to their overall public missions.”

You, too, can test your knowledge of American history and civics by taking the ISI quiz online at www.americancivicliteracy.org. But be warned: The average score for all Americans taking the test was 49 percent. Even college educators scored 55 percent.

One simple reason why Americans do so poorly in civics is that it is not being taught as it should be in public schools. Meanwhile, past ISI reports have found that “reading about history and current events in books, magazines and newspapers — and talking about these subjects with family and friends — increases a respondent’s civic literacy.”

So increase your civic literacy by taking time today to read up on American history. You might be surprised to discover what you have been missing.

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